M. E. Braddon
Part 5 out of 9
"The sky that shuts in the lawn yonder seems to shut in my life with it.
I can't look forward. If I was going to be parted from Philip to-day,
instead of married to him, I don't think I could feel more miserable
than I feel now. Why is it, Elizabeth, dear?"
"My goodness gracious me!" cried Mrs. Madden, "how should I tell, my
precious pet? You talk just like a poetry-book, and how can I answer you
unless I was another poetry-book? Come and have your breakfast, do,
that's a dear sweet love, and try a new-laid egg. New-laid eggs is good
for the spirits, my poppet."
Laura Dunbar seated herself in the comfortable arm-chair between the
fireplace and the little breakfast-table. She made a sort of pretence at
eating, just to please her old nurse, who fidgeted about the room; now
stopping by Laura's chair, and urging her to take this, that, or the
other; now running to the dressing-table to make some new arrangement
about the all-important wedding-toilet; now looking out of the window
and perjuring her simple soul by declaring that "it"--namely, the winter
sky--was going to clear up.
"It's breaking up above the elms yonder, Miss Laura," Elizabeth said;
"there's a bit of blue peepin' through the clouds; leastways, if it
ain't quite blue, it's a much lighter black than the rest of the sky,
and that's something. Eat a bit of Perrigorge pie, or a thin wafer of a
slice off that Strasbog 'am, Miss Laura, do now. You'll be ready to drop
with feelin' faint when you get to the altar-rails, if you persist on
bein' married on a empty stummick, Miss Laura. It's a moriel impossible
as you can look your best, my precious love, if you enter the church in
a state of starvation, just like one of them respectable beggars wot
pins a piece of paper on their weskits with 'I AM HUNGRY' wrote upon it
in large hand, and stands at the foot of one of the bridges on the
Surrey side of the water. And I shouldn't think as you would wish to
look like _that_, Miss Laura, on your wedding-day? _I_ shouldn't if _I_
was goin' to be own wife to a baronet!"
Laura Dunbar took very little notice of her nurse's rambling discourse;
and I am fain to confess that, upon this occasion, Mrs. Madden talked
rather more for the sake of talking than from any overflow of animal
The good creature felt the influence of the cold, wet, cheerless morning
quite as keenly as her mistress. Mrs. Madden was superstitious, as most
ignorant and simple-minded people generally are, more or less.
Superstition is, after all, only a dim, unconscious poetry, which is
latent in most natures, except in such very hard practical minds as are
incapable of believing in anything--not even in Heaven itself.
Dora Macmahon came in presently, looking very pretty in blue silk and
white lace. She looked very happy, in spite of the bad weather, and Miss
Dunbar suffered herself to be comforted by her half-sister. The two
girls sat at the table by the fire, and breakfasted, or pretended to
breakfast, together. Who could really attend to the common business of
eating and drinking on such a day as this?
"I've just been to see Lizzie and Ellen," Dora said, presently; "they
wouldn't come in here till they were dressed, and they've had their hair
screwed up in hair-pins all night to make it wave, and now it's a wet
day their hair won't wave after all, and their maid's going to pinch it
with the fire-irons--the tongs, I suppose."
Miss Macmahon had brown hair, with a natural ripple in it, and could
afford to laugh at beauty that was obliged to adorn itself by means of
hair-pins and tongs.
Lizzie and Ellen were the daughters of a Major Melville, and the special
friends of Miss Dunbar. They had come to Maudesley to act as her
bridesmaids, according to that favourite promise which young ladies so
often make to each other, and so very often break.
Laura did not appear to take much interest in the Miss Melvilles' hair.
She was very meditative about something; but her meditations must have
been of a pleasant nature, for there was a smile upon her face.
"Dora," she said, by-and-by, "do you know I've been thinking about
"About what, dear?"
"Don't you know that old saying about one wedding making many?"
Dora Macmahon blushed.
"What of that, Laura dear?" she asked, very innocently.
"I've been thinking that perhaps another wedding may follow mine. Oh,
Dora, I can't help saying it, I should be so happy if Arthur Lovell and
you were to marry."
Miss Macmahon blushed a much deeper red than before.
"Oh, Laura," she said, "that's quite impossible."
But Miss Dunbar shook her head.
"I shall live in the hope of it, notwithstanding," she said. "I love
Arthur almost as much--or perhaps quite as much, as if he were my
brother--so it isn't strange that I should wish to see him married to my
The two girls might have sat talking for some time longer, but they were
interrupted by Miss Dunbar's old nurse, who never for a moment lost
sight of the serious business of the day.
"It's all very well for you to sit there jabber, jabber, jabber, Miss
Dora," exclaimed the unceremonious Elizabeth; "you're dressed, all but
your bonnet. You've only just to pop that on, and there you are. But my
young lady isn't half dressed yet. And now, come along, Miss Laura, and
have your hair done, if you mean to have any back-hair at all to-day.
It's past nine o'clock, and you're to be at the church at eleven."
"And papa is to give me away!" murmured Laura, in a low voice, as she
seated herself before the dressing-table. "I wish he loved me better."
"Perhaps, if he loved you too well, he'd keep you, instead of giving you
away, Miss Laura," observed Mrs. Madden, with evident enjoyment of her
own wit; "and I don't suppose you'd care about that, would you, miss?
Hold your head still, that's a precious darling, and don't you trouble
yourself about anything except looking your very best this day."
THE UNBIDDEN GUEST WHO CAME TO LAURA DUNBAR'S WEDDING.
The wedding was to take place in Lisford church--that pretty, quaint,
old church of which I have already spoken.
The wandering Avon flowed through this rustic churchyard, along a
winding channel fringed by tall, trembling rushes. There was a wooden
bridge across the river, and there were two opposite entrances to the
churchyard. Pedestrians who chose the shortest route between Lisford and
Shorncliffe went in at one gate and out at another, which opened on to
The worthy inhabitants of Lisford were almost as much distressed by the
unpromising aspect of the sky as Laura Dunbar and her faithful nurse
themselves. New bonnets had been specially prepared for this festive
occasion. Chrysanthemums and dahlias, gay-looking China-asters, and all
the lingering flowers that light up the early winter landscape, had been
collected to strew the pathway beneath the bride's pretty feet. All the
brightest evergreens in the Lisford gardens had been gathered as a
fitting sacrifice for the "young lady from the Abbey."
Laura Dunbar's frank good-nature and reckless generosity were well
remembered upon this occasion; and every creature in Lisford was bent
upon doing her honour.
But this aggravating rain balked everybody. What was the use of throwing
wet dahlias and flabby chrysanthemums into the puddles through which the
bride must tread, heiress though she was? How miserable would be the
aspect of two rows of damp charity children, with red noses and no
pocket-handkerchiefs! The rector himself had a cold in his head, and
would be obliged to omit all the _n_'s and _m_'s in the marriage
In short, everybody felt that the Abbey wedding was destined to be more
or less a failure. It seemed very hard that the chief partner in the
firm of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby could not, with all his wealth, buy
a little glimmer of sunshine to light up his daughter's wedding. It grew
so dark and foggy towards eleven o'clock, that a dozen or so of
wax-candles were hastily stuck about the neighbourhood of the altar, in
order that the bride and bridegroom might be able, each of them, to see
the person that he or she was taking for better or worse.
Yes, the dismal weather made everything dismal in unison with itself. A
wet wedding is like a wet pic-nic. The most heroic nature gives way
before its utter desolation; the wit of the party forgets his best
anecdote; the funny man breaks down in the climactic verse of his great
buffo song; there is no brightness in the eyes of the beauty; there is
neither sparkle nor flavour in the champagne, though the grapes thereof
have been grown in the vineyards of Widow Cliquot herself.
There are some things that are more powerful than emperors, and the
atmosphere is one of them. Alexander might conquer nations in very
sport; but I question whether he could have resisted the influence of a
Of all the people who were to assist at Sir Philip Jocelyn's wedding,
perhaps the father of the bride was the person who seemed least affected
by that drizzling rain, that hopelessly-black sky.
If Henry Dunbar was grave and silent to-day, why that was nothing new:
for he was always grave and silent. If the banker's manner was stern and
moody to-day, that stern moodiness was habitual to him: and there was no
need to blame the murky heavens for any change in his temper. He sat by
the broad fireplace watching the burning coals, and waiting until he
should be summoned to take his place by his daughter's side in the
carriage that was to convey them both to Lisford church; and he did not
utter one word of complaint about that aggravating weather.
He looked very handsome, very aristocratic, with his grey moustache
carefully trimmed, and a white camellia in his button-hole.
Nevertheless, when he came out into the hall by-and-by, with a set smile
upon his face, like a man who is going to act a part in a play, Laura
Dunbar recoiled from him with an involuntary shiver, as she had done
upon the day of her first meeting with him in Portland Place.
But he offered her his hand, and she laid the tips of her fingers in his
broad palm, and went with him to the carriage. "Ask God to bless me upon
this day, papa," the girl said, in a low, tender voice, as these two
people took their places side by side in the roomy chariot.
Laura Dunbar laid her hand caressingly upon the banker's shoulder as she
spoke. It was not a time for reticence; it was not an occasion upon
which to be put off by any girlish fear of this stern, silent man.
"Ask God to bless me, father dearest," the soft, tremulous voice
pleaded, "for the sake of my dead mother."
She tried to see his face: but she could not. His head was turned away,
and he was busy making some alteration in the adjustment of the
carriage-window. The chariot had cost nearly three hundred pounds, and
was very well built: but there was something wrong about the window
nevertheless, if one might judge by the difficulty which Mr. Dunbar had,
in settling it to his satisfaction.
He spoke presently, in a very earnest voice, but with his head still
turned away from Laura.
"I hope God will bless you, my dear," he said; "and that He will have
pity upon your enemies."
This last wish was more Christianlike than natural; since fathers do not
usually implore compassion for the enemies of their children.
But Laura Dunbar did not trouble herself to think about this. She only
knew that her father had called down Heaven's blessing upon her; and
that his manner had betrayed such agitation as could, of course, only
spring from one cause, namely, his affection for his daughter.
She threw herself into his arms with a radiant smile, and putting up her
hands, drew his face round, and pressed her lips to his.
But, as on the day in Portland Place, a chill crept through her veins,
as she felt the deadly coldness of her father's hands lifted to push her
gently from him.
It is a common thing for Anglo-Indians to be quiet and reserved in their
manners, and strongly adverse to all demonstrations of this kind. Laura
remembered this, and made excuses to herself for her father's coldness.
The rain was still falling as the carriage stopped at the churchyard.
There were only three carriages in this brief bridal train, for Mr.
Dunbar had insisted that there should be no grandeur, no display.
The two Miss Melvilles, Dora Macmahon, and Arthur Lovell rode in the
same carriage. Major Melville's daughters looked very pale and cold in
their white-and-blue dresses, and the north-easter had tweaked their
noses, which were rather sharp and pointed in style. They would have
looked pretty enough, poor girls, had the wedding taken place in
summer-time; but they had not that splendid exceptional beauty which can
defy all changes of temperature, and which is alike glorious, whether
clad in abject rags or robed in velvet and ermine.
The carriages reached the little gate of Lisford churchyard; Philip
Jocelyn came out of the porch, and down the narrow pathway leading to
The drizzling rain descended on him, though he was a baronet, and though
he came bareheaded to receive his bride.
I think the Lisford beadle, who was a sound Tory of the old school,
almost wondered that the heavens themselves should be audacious enough
to wet the uncovered head of the lord of Jocelyn's Rock.
But it went on raining, nevertheless.
"Times has changed, sir," said the beadle, to an idle-looking stranger
who was standing near him. "I have read in a history of Warwickshire,
that when Algernon Jocelyn was married to Dame Margery Milward, widow to
Sir Stephen Milward, knight, in Charles the First's time, there was a
cloth-of-gold canopy from the gate yonder to this porch here, and two
moving turrets of basket-work, each of 'em drawn by four horses, and
filled with forty poor children, crowned with roses, lookin' out of the
turret winders, and scatterin' scented waters on the crowd; and there
was a banquet, sir, served up at noon that day at Jocelyn's Rock, with
six peacocks brought to table with their tails spread; and a pie, served
in a gold dish, with live doves in it, every feather of 'em steeped in
the rarest perfume, which they was intended to sprinkle over the company
as they flew about here and there. But--would you believe in such a
radical spirit pervadin' the animal creation?--every one of them doves
flew straight out of the winder, and went and scattered their perfumes
on the poor folks outside. There's no such weddin's as that nowadays,
sir," said the old beadle, with a groan. "As I often say to my old
missus, I don't believe as ever England has held up its head since the
day when Charles the Martyr lost his'n."
Laura Dunbar went up the narrow pathway by her father's side; but Philip
Jocelyn walked upon her left hand, and the crowd had enough to do to
stare at bride and bridegroom.
The baronet's face, which was always a handsome one, looked splendid in
the light of his happiness. People disputed as to whether the bride or
bridegroom was handsomest; and Laura forgot all about the wet weather as
she laid her light hand on Philip Jocelyn's arm.
The churchyard was densely crowded in the neighbourhood of the pathway
along which the bride and bridegroom walked. In spite of the miserable
weather, in defiance of Mr. Dunbar's desire that the wedding should be a
quiet one, people had come from a very long distance in order to see the
millionaire's beautiful daughter married to the master of Jocelyn's
Amongst the spectators who had come to witness Miss Dunbar's wedding was
the tall gentleman in the high white hat, who was known in sporting
circles as the Major, and who had exhibited so much interest when the
name of Henry Dunbar was mentioned on the Shorncliffe racecourse. The
Major had been very lucky in his speculations on the Shorncliffe races,
and had gone straight away from the course to the village of Lisford,
where he took up his abode at the Hose and Crown, a bright-looking
hostelry, where a traveller could have his steak or his chop done to a
turn in one of the cosiest kitchens in all Warwickshire. The Major was
very reserved upon the subject of his sporting operations when he found
himself among unprofessional people; and upon such occasions, though he
would now and then condescend to lay the odds against anything with some
unconscious agriculturalist or village tradesman, his innocence with
regard to all turf matters was positively refreshing.
He was a traveller in Birmingham jewellery, he told the land lady of the
quiet little inn, and was on his way to that busy commercial centre to
procure a fresh supply of glass emeralds, and a score or so of gigantic
rubies with crinkled tinsel behind them. The Major, usually somewhat
silent and morose, contrived to make himself very agreeable to the
jovial frequenters of the comfortable little public parlour of the Rose
He took his dinner and his supper in that cosy apartment; and he sat
there all the evening, listening to and joining in the conversation of
the Lisfordians, and drinking sixpenn'orths of gin-and-water, with the
air of a man who could consume a hogshead of the juice of the
juniper-berry without experiencing any evil consequences therefrom. He
ate and drank like a man of iron; and his glittering black eyes kept
perpetual watch upon the faces of the simple country people, and his
eager ears drank in every word that was spoken. Of course a great deal
was said about the event of the next morning. Everybody had something to
say about Miss Dunbar and her wealthy father, who lived so lonely and
secluded at the Abbey, and whose ways were altogether so different from
those of his father before him.
The Major listened to every syllable, and only edged-in a word or two
now and then, when the conversation flagged, or when there was a chance
of the subject being changed.
By this means he contrived to keep the Lisfordians constant to one topic
all the evening, and that topic was the manners and customs of Henry
Very early on the morning of the wedding the Major made his appearance
in the churchyard. As for the incessant rain, that was nothing to _him_;
he was used to it; and, moreover, the wet weather gave him a good excuse
for buttoning his coat to the chin, and turning the poodle collar over
his big red ears.
He found the door of the church ajar, early though it was, and going in
softly, he came upon the Tory beadle and some damp charity children.
The Major contrived to engage the Tory beadle in conversation, which was
not very difficult, seeing that the aforesaid beadle was always ready to
avail himself of any opportunity of hearing his own voice. Of course the
loquacious beadle talked chiefly of Sir Philip Jocelyn and the banker's
daughter; and again the sporting gentleman from London heard of Henry
"I _have_ heerd as Mr. Dunbar is the richest man in Europe, exceptin'
the Hemperore of Roosia and Baron Rothschild," the beadle said; "but I
don't know anythink more than that he's got a deal more money than he
knows what to do with, seein' that he passes the best part of his days
sittin' over the fire in his own room, or ridin' out after dark on
horseback, if report speaks correct."
"I tell you what I'll do," said the Major; "as I am in Lisford,--and, to
be candid with you, Lisford's about the dullest place it was ever my bad
luck to visit,--why, I'll stay and have a look at this wedding. I
suppose you can put me into a quiet pew, back yonder in the shadow,
where I can see all that's going on, without any of your fine folks
seeing me, eh?"
As the Major emphasized this question by dropping half-a-crown into the
beadle's hand, that official answered it very promptly,--
"I'll put you into the comfortablest pew you ever sat in," answered the
"You might do that easily," muttered the sporting gentleman, below his
breath; "for there's not many pews, or churches either, that _I_'ve ever
The Major took his place in a corner of the church whence there was a
very good view of the altar, where the feeble flames of the wax-candles
made little splashes of yellow light in the fog.
The fog got thicker and thicker in the church as the hour for the
marriage ceremony drew nearer and nearer, and the light of the
wax-candles grew brighter as the atmosphere became more murky.
The Major sat patiently in his pew, with his arms folded upon the ledge,
where the prayer-books in the corner of the seats were wont to rest
during divine service. He planted his bristly chin upon his folded arms,
and closed his eyes in a kind of dog-sleep.
But in this sleep he could hear everything going on. He heard the
hobnailed soles of the charity children pattering upon the floor of the
church; he heard the sharp rustling of the evergreens and wet flowers
under the children's figures; and he could hear the deep voice of Philip
Jocelyn, talking to the clergyman in the porch, as he waited the arrival
of the carriages from Maudesley Abbey.
The carriages arrived at last; and presently the wedding-train came up
the narrow aisle, and took their places about the altar-rails. Henry
Dunbar stood behind his daughter, with his face in shadow.
The marriage-service was commenced. The Major's eyes were wide open now.
Those sharp eager black eyes took notice of everything. They rested now
upon the bride, now upon the bridegroom, now upon the faces of the
rector and his curate.
Sometimes those glittering eyes strove to pierce the gloom, and to see
the other faces, the faces that were farther away from the flickering
yellow light of the wax-candles; but the gloom was not to be pierced
even by the sharpest eyes.
The Major could only see four faces;--the faces of the bride and
bridegroom, the rector, and his curate. But by-and-by, when one of the
clergymen asked the familiar question--"_Who giveth this woman to be
married, to this man?_" Henry Dunbar came forward into the light of the
wax-candles, and gave the appointed answer.
The Major's folded arms dropped off the ledge, as if they had been
suddenly paralyzed. He sat, breathing hard and quick, and staring at Mr.
"Henry Dunbar?" he muttered to himself, presently--"Henry Dunbar!"
Mr. Dunbar did not again retire into the shadow. He remained during the
rest of the ceremony standing where the light shone full upon his
When all was over, and the bride and bridegroom had signed their names
in the vestry, before admiring witnesses, the sporting gentleman rose
and walked softly out of the pew, and along one of the obscure
The wedding-party passed out of the church-porch. The Major followed
Philip Jocelyn and his bride went straight to the carriage that was to
convey them back to the Abbey.
Dora Macmahon and the two pale Bridesmaids, with areophane bonnets that
had become hopelessly limp from exposure to that cruel rain, took their
places in the second carriage. They were accompanied by Arthur Lovell,
whom they looked upon with no very great favour; for he had been silent
and melancholy throughout the drive from Maudesley Abbey to Lisford
Church, and had stared at them with vacant indifference, while handing
them out of the carriage with a mechanical kind of politeness that was
The two first carriages drove away from the churchyard-gate, and the mud
upon the high-road splashed the closed windows of the vehicles as the
wheels went round.
The third carriage waited for Henry Dunbar, and the crowd in the
churchyard waited to see him get into it.
He had his foot upon the lowest step, and his hand upon the door, when
the Major went up to him, and tapped him lightly upon the shoulder.
The spectators recoiled, aghast with indignant astonishment.
How dared this shabby-looking man, with clumsy boots that were queer
about the heels, and a mangy fur collar, like the skin of an invalid
French poodle, to his threadbare coat--how in the name of all that is
audacious, dared such a low person as this lay his dirty fingers upon
the sacred shoulder of Henry Dunbar of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby's
banking-house, St. Gundolph Lane, City?
The millionaire turned, and grew as ashy pale at sight of the shabby
stranger as he could have done if the sheeted dead had risen from one of
the graves near at hand. But he uttered no exclamation of horror or
surprise. He only shrank haughtily away from the Major's touch, as if
there had been some infection to be dreaded from those dirty
"May I be permitted to know your motive for this intrusion, sir?" the
banker asked, in a cold, repellent voice, looking the shabby intruder
full in the eyes as he spoke.
There was something so resolute, so defiant, in the rich man's gaze,
that it is a wonder the poor man did not shrink from encountering it.
But he did not: he gave back look for look.
"Don't say you've forgotten me, Mr. Dunbar," he said; "don't say you've
forgotten a very old acquaintance."
This was spoken after a pause, in which the two men had looked at each
other as earnestly as if each had been trying to read the inmost secrets
of the other's soul.
"Don't say you've forgotten me, Mr. Dunbar," repeated the Major.
Henry Dunbar smiled. It was a forced smile, perhaps; but, at any rate,
it was a smile.
"I have a great many acquaintances," he said; "and I fancy you must have
gone down in the world since I knew you, if I may judge from
The bystanders, who had listened to every word, began to murmur among
themselves. "Yes, indeed, they should rather think so:--if ever this
shabby stranger had known Mr. Dunbar, and if he was not altogether an
impostor, he must have been a very different sort of person at the time
of his acquaintance with the millionaire."
"When and where did I know you?" asked Henry Dunbar, with his eyes still
looking straight into the eyes of the other man.
"Oh, a long time ago--a very long way off!"
"Perhaps it was--somewhere in India--up the country?' said the banker,
"Yes, it was in India--up the country," answered the other.
"Then you won't find me slow to befriend you," said Mr. Dunbar. "I am
always glad to be of service to any of my Indian acquaintances--even
when the world has treated them badly. Get into my carriage, and I'll
drive you home. I shall be able to talk to you by-and-by, when all this
wedding business is over."
The two men seated themselves side by side upon the spring cushions of
the banker's luxurious carriage; and the vehicle drove rapidly away,
leaving the spectators in a rapture of admiration at Henry Dunbar's
condescension to his shabby Indian acquaintance.
AFTER THE WEDDING.
The banker and the man who was called the Major talked to each other
earnestly enough throughout the short drive between Lisford churchyard
and Maudesley Abbey; but they spoke in low confidential whispers, and
their conversation was interlarded by all manner of strange phrases; the
queer, outlandish words were Hindostanee, no doubt, and were by no means
easy to comprehend.
As the carriage drove up to the grand entrance of the Abbey, the
stranger looked out through the mud-spattered window.
"A fine place!" he exclaimed; "a splendid place!"
"What am I to call you here?" muttered Mr. Dunbar, as he got out of the
"You may call me anything; as long as you do not call me when the soup
is cold. I've a two-pair back in the neighbourhood of St. Martin's Lane,
and I'm known _there_ as Mr. Vavasor. But I'm not particular to a shade.
Call me anything that begins with a V. It's as well to stick to one
initial, on account of one's linen."
From the very small amount of linen exhibited in the Major's toilette, a
malicious person might have imagined that such a thing as a shirt was a
luxury not included in that gentleman's wardrobe.
"Call me Vernon," he said: "Vernon is a good name. You may as well call
me Major Vernon. My friends at the Corner--not the Piccadilly corner,
but the corner of the waste ground at the back of Field Lane--have done
me the honour to give me the rank of Major, and I don't see why I
shouldn't retain the distinction. My proclivities are entirely
aristocratic: I have no power of assimilation with the _canaille_. This
is the sort of thing that suits me. Here I am in my element."
Mr. Dunbar had led his shabby acquaintance into the low, tapestried room
in which he usually sat. The Major rubbed his hands with a gesture of
enjoyment as he looked at the evidences of wealth that were heedlessly
scattered about the apartment. He gave a long sigh of satisfaction as he
dropped with a sudden plump upon the spring cushion of an easy-chair on
one side of the fireplace.
"Now, listen to me," said Mr. Dunbar. "I can't afford to talk to you
this morning; I have other duties to perform: When they're over, I'll
come and talk to you. In the meantime, you may sit here as long as you
like, and have what you please to eat or drink."
"Well, I don't mind the wing of a fowl, and a bottle of Burgundy. It's a
long time since I've tasted Burgundy. Chambertin, or Clos de Vougeot, at
twelve bob a bottle--that's the sort of tipple, I rather flatter
Henry Dunbar drew himself up with a slight shudder, as if repelled and
disgusted by the man's vulgarity.
"What do you want of me?" he asked. "Remember that I am waited for. I am
quite ready to serve you--for the sake of 'auld lang syne!'"
"Yes," answered the Major, with a sneer; "it's so pleasant to remember
'auld lang syne!'"
"Well," asked Mr. Dunbar, impatiently, "what is it you want of me?"
"A bottle of Burgundy--the best you have in your cellar--something to
eat, and--that which a poor man generally asks of his rich friends--his
"You shall not find me illiberal towards you. I'll come back by-and-by,
and write you a cheque."
"You'll make it a thumping one?"
"I'll make it as much as you want."
"That's the sort of thing. There always was something princely and
magnificent about you, Mr. Dunbar."
"You shall not have any reason to complain," answered the banker, very
"You'll send me the lunch?"
"Yes. You can hold your tongue, I suppose? You won't talk to the servant
who waits upon you?"
"Has your friend the manners of a gentleman, or has he not? Hasn't he
had the eminent advantage of a collegiate education--I may say, a
prolongued course of collegiate study? But look here, since you're so
afraid of my putting my foot in it, suppose I go back to Lisford now,
and I can return to you to-night after dark. Our business will keep. I
want a long talk, and a quiet talk; but I must suit my convenience to
yours. It's the dee-yuty of the poor-r-r dependant to wait upon the
per-leasure of his patron," exclaimed Major Vernon, in the studied tones
of the villain in a melodrama.
Henry Dunbar gave a sigh of relief.
"Yes, that will be much better," he said. "I can talk to you comfortably
"Ta-ta, then, old boy. 'Oh, reservoir!' as we say in the classics."
Major Vernon extended a brawny hand of rather doubtful purity. The
millionaire touched the broad palm with the tips of his gloved fingers.
"Good-bye," he said; "I shall expect you at nine o'clock. You know your
He opened the door as he spoke, and pointed through a vista of two or
three adjoining rooms to the hall. It was rather a broad hint. The Major
pulled the poodle collar still higher above his ears, and went out with
only his nose exposed to the influence of the atmosphere.
Henry Dunbar shut the door, and walked to one of the windows. He leaned
his forehead against the glass, and looked out, watching the tall figure
of the Major, as he walked rapidly along the broad carriage-drive that
skirted the lawn.
The banker watched his shabby acquaintance until Major Vernon was quite
out of sight. Then he went back to the fireplace, dropped heavily into
his chair, and gave a long groan. It was not a sigh, it was a groan--a
groan that seemed to come from a bosom that was rent by all the agony of
"This decides it!" he muttered to himself. "Yes, this decides it! I've
seen it for a long time coming to a crisis. But _this_ settles
He got up, passed his hand across his forehead and over his eyelids,
like a man who had just been awakened from a long sleep; and then went
to play his part in the grand business of the day.
There is a very wide difference between the feelings of the poor
adventurer--who, by some lucky accident, is enabled to pounce upon a
rich friend--and the sentiments of the wealthy victim who is pounced
upon. Nothing could present a stronger contrast than the manner of Henry
Dunbar, the banker, and the gentleman who had elected to be called Major
Vernon. Whereas Mr. Dunbar seemed plunged into the uttermost depths of
despair by the sudden appearance of his old acquaintance, the worthy
Major exhibited a delight that was almost uproarious in its
It was not until he found himself in a very lonely part of the park,
where there were no other witnesses than the timid deer, lurking here
and there under the poor shelter of a clump of leafless elms,--it was
not till Major Vernon felt himself quite alone, that he gave way to the
full exuberance of his spirits.
"It's a gold-mine!" he cried, rubbing his hands; "it's a regular
He executed a grim caper in his delight, and the scared deer fled away
from the neighbourhood of his path; perhaps they took him for some
modern gnome, dancing wild dances in the wet woodland. He laughed aloud,
with a hollow, fiendish-sounding laugh, and then clapped his hands
together till the noise of his brawny palms echoed in the rustic
"Henry Dunbar," he said to himself; "Henry Dunbar! He'll be a milch
cow--nothing but a milch cow. If--" he stopped suddenly, and the
triumphant grin upon his face changed to a thoughtful expression. "If he
doesn't run away," he said, standing quite still, and rubbing his chin
slowly with the palm of his hand. "What if he should give me the slip?
He _might_ do that!"
But, after a moment's pause, he laughed aloud again, and walked on
"No, he'll not do that," he said; "it won't serve his turn to run away."
While Major Vernon went back to Lisford, Henry Dunbar took his seat at
the breakfast-table, with Laura Lady Jocelyn by his side.
There was very little more gaiety at the wedding-breakfast than there
had been at the wedding. Everything was very elegant, very subdued, and
aristocratic. Silent footmen glided noiselessly backwards and forwards
behind the chairs of the guests; champagne, Moselle, hock, and Burgundy
sparkled in shallow glasses that were shaped like the broad leaf of a
water-lily. Dresden-china shepherdesses, in the centre of the oval
table, held up their chintz-patterned aprons filled with some forced
strawberries that had cost about half-a-crown apiece. Smirking shepherds
supported open-work baskets, laden with tiny Algerian apples, China
oranges, and big purple hothouse grapes.
The bride and bridegroom were very happy; but theirs was a subdued and
quiet happiness that had little influence upon those around them. The
wedding-breakfast was a very silent meal, for the face of the giver of
the feast was as gloomy as the sky above Maudesley Abbey; and every now
and then, in awkward pauses of the conversation, the pattering of the
incessant raindrops sounded upon the windows.
At last the breakfast was finished. A knife had been cunningly inserted
in the outer-wall of the splendid cake, and a few morsels of the rich
interior, which looked like a kind of portable Day-and-Martin, had been
eaten by one of the bridesmaids. Laura Jocelyn rose and left the table,
attended by the three young ladies.
Elizabeth Madden was waiting in the bride's dressing-room with Lady
Jocelyn's travelling-dress laid in state upon a big sofa. She kissed her
young Miss, and cried over her a little, before she was equal to begin
the business of the toilette: and then the voices of the bridesmaids
broke loose, and there was a pleasant buzz of congratulation, which
beguiled the time while Laura was exchanging her bridal costume for a
long rustling dress of dove-coloured silk, a purple-velvet cloak trimmed
and lined with sable, and a miraculous fabric of pale-pink areophane,
and starry jasmine-blossoms, which the Parisian milliner facetiously
entitled "a bonnet."
She went down stairs presently in this rich attire, looking like a
Russian empress, in all the glory of her youth and beauty. The
travelling-carriage was standing at the door; Arthur Lovell and Mr.
Dunbar were in the hall with the two clergymen. Laura went up to her
father to bid him good-bye.
"It will be a long time before we see each other again, papa dear," she
said, in tones that were only loud enough for Mr. Dunbar to hear; "say
'God bless you!' once more before I go."
Her head was on his breast, and her face lifted up towards his own as
she said this.
The banker looked straight before him with a forced smile upon his face,
that was little more than a nervous contraction of the muscles about the
"I will give you something better than my blessing, Laura," he said
aloud; "I have given you no wedding-present yet, but I have not
forgotten. The gift I mean to present to you will take some time to
prepare. I shall give you the handsomest diamond-necklace that was ever
made in England. I shall buy the diamonds myself, and have them set
according to my own design."
The bridesmaids gave a little murmur of delight.
Laura pressed the speaker's cold hand.
"I don't want any diamonds, papa," she whispered; "I only want your
Mr. Dunbar did not make any response to that entreating whisper. There
was no time for any answer, perhaps, for the bride and bridegroom had to
catch an appointed train at Shorncliffe station, which was to take them
on the first stage of their Continental journey; and in the bustle and
confusion of their hurried departure, the banker had no opportunity of
saying anything more to his daughter. But he stood in the Gothic porch,
watching the departing carriage with a kind of mournful tenderness in
"I hope that she will be happy," he muttered to himself as he went back
to the house. "Heaven knows I hope she may be happy."
He did not stop to make any ceremonious adieu to his guests, but walked
straight to his own apartments. People were accustomed to his strange
manners, and were very indulgent towards his foibles.
Arthur Lovell and the three bridesmaids lingered a little in the blue
drawing-room. The Melvilles were to drive home to their father's house
in the afternoon, and Dora Macmahon was going with them. She was to stay
at their father's house a few weeks, and was then to go back to her aunt
"But I am to pay my darling Laura an early visit at Jocelyn's Rock," she
said, when Arthur made some inquiry about her arrangements; "that has
been all settled."
The ladies and the young lawyer took an afternoon tea together before
they left Maudesley, and were altogether very sociable, not to say
merry. It was upon this occasion that Arthur Lovell, for the first time
in his life, observed that Dora Macmahon had very beautiful brown eyes,
and rippling brown hair, and the sweetest smile he had ever seen--except
in one lovely face, which was like the splendour of the noonday sun, and
seemed to extinguish all lesser lights.
The carriage was announced at last; and Mr. Lovell had enough to do in
attending to the three young ladies, and the stowing away of all those
bonnet-boxes, and shawls, and travelling-bags, and desks, and
dressing-cases, and odd volumes of books, and umbrellas, parasols, and
sketching-portfolios, which are the peculiar attributes of all female
travellers. And then, when all was finished, and he had bowed for the
last time in acknowledgment of those friendly becks and wreathed smiles
which greeted him from the carriage-window till it disappeared in the
curve of the avenue, Arthur Lovell walked slowly home, thinking of the
business of the day.
Laura was lost to him for ever. The dreadful grief which had so long
brooded darkly over his life had come down upon him at last, and the
pang had not been so insupportable as he had expected it to be.
"I never had any hope," he thought to himself, as he walked along the
soddened road between the gates of Maudesley and the old town that lay
before him. "I never really hoped that Laura Dunbar would be my wife."
John Lovell's house was one of the best in the town of Shorncliffe. It
was a queer old house, with a sloping roof, and gable-ends of solid oak,
adorned here and there by grim devices, carved by a skilful hand. It was
a large house; but low and straggling; and unpretending in its exterior.
The red light of a fire was shining in a wainscoted chamber, half
sitting-room, half library. The crimson curtains were not yet drawn
across the diamond-paned window. Arthur Lovell looked into the room as
he passed, and saw his father sitting by the fire, with a newspaper at
There was no need to bolt doors against thieves and vagabonds in such a
quiet town as Shorncliffe. Arthur Lovell turned the handle of the street
door and went in. The door of his father's sitting-room was ajar, and
the lawyer heard his son's step in the hall.
"Is that you, Arthur?" he asked.
"Yes, father," the young man answered, going into the room.
"I want to speak to you very particularly. I suppose this wedding at
Maudesley Abbey has put all serious business out of your head."
"What serious business, father?"
"Have you forgotten Lord Herriston's offer?"
"The offer of the appointment in India? Oh, no, father, I have not
"I have not been able to decide."
As he spoke, Arthur Lovell thought of Laura Dunbar. No; she was Laura
Jocelyn now. It was a hard thing for the young man to think of her by
that new name. Would it not be better for him to go away--to put
immeasurable distance between himself and the woman he had loved so
dearly? Would it not be better and wiser to go away? And yet what if by
so doing he turned his back upon another chance of happiness? What if a
lesser star than that which had gone down in the darkness might now be
rising dim and distant in the pale grey sky?
"There is no reason that I should decide in a hurry," the young man
said, presently. "Lord Herriston told you that I might take twelve
months to think about his offer."
"He did," answered John Lovell; "but half of the time is gone, and I've
had a letter from Lord Herriston by this afternoon's post. He wants your
decision immediately; for a connection of his own has applied to him for
the appointment. He still holds to his promise, and will give you the
preference; but you must make up your mind at once."
"Do you wish me to go to India, father?"
"Do I wish you to go to India! Of course not, my dear boy, unless your
own ambition takes you there. Remember, you are an only son. You have no
occasion to leave this place. You will inherit a very good practice and
a comfortable fortune. I thought you were ambitious, and that
Shorncliffe was too narrow a sphere for your ambition, or else I should
never have entertained any idea of this Indian appointment."
"And you will not be sorry if I remain in England?"
"Sorry! No, indeed; I shall be very glad. Do you suppose, when a man has
only one son, a handsome, clever, high-minded young fellow, whose
presence is like sunshine in his father's gloomy old house--do you think
the father wants to get rid of the lad? If you do think so, you must
have a very small idea of parental affection."
"Then I'll refuse the appointment, father."
"God bless you, my boy!" exclaimed the lawyer.
The letter to Lord Herriston was written that night; and Arthur Lovell
resigned himself to a perpetual residence in that quiet town; within a
mile of which the towers of Jocelyn's Rock crowned the tall cliff above
the rushing waters of the Avon.
Mr. Dunbar had given all necessary directions for the reception of his
The Major was ushered at once to the tapestried room, where the banker
was still sitting at the dinner-table. He had that meal laid upon a
round table near the fire, and the room looked a very picture of comfort
and luxury as Major Vernon went into it, fresh from the black foggy
night, and the leafless avenue, where the bare trunks of the elms looked
like gigantic shadows looming through the obscurity.
The Major's eyes were almost dazzled by the brightness of that pleasant
chamber. This man was a reprobate; but he had begun life as a gentleman.
He remembered such a room as this long ago, across a dreary gulf of
forty ill-spent years. The sight of this room brought back the memory of
a pretty lamplit parlour, with an old man sitting in a high-backed
easy-chair: a genial matron bending over her work; two fair-faced girls;
a favourite mastiff stretched full length upon the hearth; and, last of
all, a young man at home from college, yawning over a sporting
newspaper, weary to death of all the simple innocent delights of home,
sick of the companionship of gentle sisters, the love of a fond mother,
and wishing to be back again at the old uproarious wine-parties, the
drunken orgies, the card-playing and prize-fighting, the extravagance
and debauchery of the bad set in which he was a chief.
The Major gave a profound sigh as he looked round the room. But the
melancholy shadow on his face changed into a grim smile, as he glanced
from the tapestried walls and curtained window, with a great Indian jar
of hothouse flowers standing upon an inlaid table before it, and filling
the room with a faint perfume of jasmine and almond, to the figure of
"It's comfortable," said Major Vernon; "to say the least of it, it's
very comfortable. And with a balance of half a million or so at one's
banker's, or in one's own bank--which is better still perhaps--one is
not so badly off, eh, Mr. Dunbar?"
"Sit down and eat one of those birds," answered the banker. "I'll talk
to you by-and-by."
The Major obeyed his friend; he unwound three or four yards of dingy
woollen stuff from his scraggy throat, turned down the poodle collar,
pulled his chair close to the table, squared his brows, and began
business. He made very light of a brace of partridges and a bottle of
When the table had been cleared, and the two men left alone together,
Major Vernon stretched his long legs upon the hearth-rug, plunged his
hands deep down in his trousers' pockets, and gave a sigh of
"And now," said Mr. Dunbar, filling his glass from the starry crystal
claret-jug, "what is it that you want to say to me, Stephen Vallance, or
Major Vernon, or whatever ridiculous name you may call yourself--what is
it you've got to say?"
"I'll tell you that in a very few words," answered the Major, quietly;
"I want to talk to you about the man who was murdered at Winchester some
The banker's hand lost its steadiness, the neck of the claret-jug
knocked against the thin lip of the glass, and shivered it into
"You'll spill your wine," said Major Vernon. "I'm very sorry for you if
your nerves are no better than that."
* * * * *
When Major Vernon that night left his friend, he carried away with him
half-a-dozen cheques for different amounts, making in all two thousand
pounds, upon that private banking-account which Mr. Dunbar kept for
himself in the house of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby.
It was after midnight when the banker opened the hall-door, and passed
out with the Major upon the broad stone flags under the Gothic porch.
There was no rain now; but it was very dark, and the north-easterly
winds were blowing amongst the leafless branches of giant oaks and elms.
"Shall you present those cheques yourself?" Henry Dunbar asked, as the
two men were about to part.
"Yes, I think so."
"Dress yourself decently, then, before you do so," said the banker;
"they'd wonder what dealings you and I could have together, if you were
to show yourself in St. Gundolph Lane in your present costume."
"My friend is proud," exclaimed the Major, with a mock tragic accent;
"he is proud, and he despises his humble dependant."
"Good night," said Mr. Dunbar, rather abruptly; "it's past twelve
o'clock, and I'm tired."
"To be sure. You're tired. Do you--do you--sleep well?" asked Major
Vernon, in a whisper. There was no mock solemnity in his tone now.
The banker turned away from him with a muttered oath. The light of a
lamp suspended from the groined roof of the porch shone upon the two
men's faces. Henry Dunbar's countenance was overclouded by a black
frown, and was by no means agreeable to look upon; but the grinning face
of the Major, the thin lips wreathed into a malicious smile, the small
black eyes glittering with a sinister light, looked like the face of a
"Good night," repeated the banker, turning his back upon his friend, and
about to re-enter the house.
Major Vernon laid his bony fingers upon Henry Dunbar's shoulder, and
stopped him before he could cross the threshold.
"You've given me two thou'," he said; "that's liberal enough to start
with; but I'm an old man; I'm tired of the life of a vagabond, and I
want to live like a gentleman;--not as you do, of course; _that's_ out
of the question; it isn't everybody that has the good luck to be a
millionaire, like Henry Dunbar; but I want a bottle of claret with my
dinner, a good coat upon my back, and a five-pound note in my pocket
constantly. You must do as much as that for me; eh, dear boy?"
"I don't refuse to do it, do I?" asked Henry Dunbar, impatiently; "I
should think what you've got in your pocket already is a pretty good
"My dear fellow, it's a stupendous beginning!" exclaimed Major Vernon;
"it's a princely beginning; it's a Napoleonic beginning. But that two
thou isn't meant for a blind, is it? It's not to be the beginning,
middle, and the end? You're not going to do the gentle bolt--eh?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're not going to run away? You're not going to renounce the pomps
and vanities of this wicked world, and make an early expedition across
the herring-pond--eh, friend of my soul?"
"Why should I run away?" asked Henry Dunbar, sternly.
"That's the very thing I say myself, dear boy. Why should you? A wise
man doesn't run away from landed estates, and fine houses, and half a
million of money. But when you broke that claret-glass after dinner, it
struck me somehow that you were--shall I venture the word?--_rather_
nervous! Nervous people do all manner of things. Give me your word that
you're not going to bolt, and I'm satisfied."
"I tell you, I have no such idea in my mind," Mr. Dunbar answered, with
increasing impatience. "Will that do?"
"It will, dear boy. Your hand upon it! What a cold hand you've got! Take
care of yourself; and once more--good night!"
"You're going to London?"
"Yes--to cash the cheques, and make a few business arrangements."
Mr. Dunbar bolted the great door as the footsteps of his friend the
Major died away upon the gravelled walk, which had been quickly dried by
the frosty wind. The banker had dismissed his servants at ten o'clock
that night; so there was nobody to wait upon him, or to watch him, when
he went back to the tapestried room.
He sat by the low fire for a little time, thinking, with a settled gloom
upon his face, and drinking Burgundy out of a tumbler. Then he went to
bed; and the light of the night-lamp shining upon his face as he slept,
showed it distorted by strange shadows, that were not altogether the
shadows of the draperies above his head.
Major Vernon walked briskly down the long avenue leading to the
"Two thou' is comfortable," he muttered to himself; "very satisfactory
for a first go-in at the gold-diggin's! but I shall expect my California
to produce a little more than that before we close the shaft, and retire
upon the profits of the speculation. I _think_ my friend is safe--I
don't think he'll run away. But I shall keep my eye upon him,
nevertheless. The human eye is a great institution; and I shall watch my
In spite of a natural eagerness to transform those oblong slips of
paper--the cheques signed with the well-known name of Henry Dunbar--into
the still more convenient and flimsy paper circulating medium dispensed
by the Old Lady in Threadneedle Street, or the yellow coinage of the
realm, Major Vernon did not seem in any very great hurry to leave
A great many of the Lisfordians had seen the shabby stranger take his
seat in Henry Dunbar's carriage, side by side with the great banker.
This fact became universally known throughout the parish of Lisford and
two neighbouring parishes, before the shadows of night came down upon
the day of Laura Dunbar's wedding, and the Major was respected
He was shabby, certainly; queer-about the heels of his boots; and very
mangy with regard to the poodle collar. His hat was more shiny than was
consistent with the hat-manufacturing interest. His bony hands were red
and bare, and only one miserable mockery of a glove dangled between his
thumb and finger as he swaggered along the village street.
But he had been seen riding in Henry Dunbar's carriage, and from that
moment he had become invested with a romantic interest. He was a reduced
gentleman, who had seen better days; or he was a miser, perhaps--an
eccentric individual, who wore shabby boots and shiny hats for his own
love and pleasure.
People paid respect, therefore, to the stranger at the Rose and Crown,
and touched their hats to him as he went in and out, and were glad to
answer any questions he chose to put to them as he loitered about the
village. He contrived to find out a good deal in this way about things
in general, and the habits of Henry Dunbar in particular. The banker had
given his shabby acquaintance a handful of sovereigns for present use,
as well as the cheques; and the Major was able to live upon the best the
Rose and Crown could afford, and pay liberally for all he consumed.
"I find the Warwickshire air agree with me remarkably well," he said to
the landlord, as he sat at breakfast in the bar-parlour, upon the second
day after his interview with Henry Dunbar; "and if you know of any snug
little box in the neighbourhood that would suit a lonely old bachelor
with a comfortable income, and nobody to help him spend it, why, I
really should have a very great inclination to take it, and furnish it."
The landlord scratched his head, and reflected for a few minutes. Then
he slapped his leg with a sounding and triumphant slap.
"I know the very thing as would suit you, Major Vernon," he said--the
Major had assumed the name of Vernon, as agreed upon between himself and
Henry Dunbar--"the very thing," repeated the landlord; "you might say it
had been made to order like. There's a sale comes off next Thursday. Mr.
Grogson, the Shorncliffe auctioneer, will sell, at eleven o'clock
precisely, the furniture and lease of the snuggest little box in these
parts--Woodbine Cottage it's called--a sweet pretty little place, as was
the property of old Admiral Manders. The admiral died in the house, and
having been a bachelor, and his money having gone to distant relatives,
the lease and furniture of the cottage will be sold. But I should
think," added the landlord, gravely, looking rather doubtfully at his
guest as he spoke, "I should think the lease and furniture, pictures and
plate, will fetch a matter of eight hundred to a thousand pound; and
perhaps you mightn't care to go to that?"
The landlord could not refrain from glancing furtively at the white and
shining aspect of the cloth that covered the sharp knees of his
customer, which were exactly under his eyes as the two men sat opposite
to each other beside the snug little round table.
"You mightn't care to go to that price," he repeated, as he helped
himself to about three-quarters of a pound of cold ham.
The Major lifted his bristly eyebrows with a contemptuous twitch.
"If the cottage suits me," he said, "I don't mind a thousand for it.
To-day's Saturday;--I shall run up to town to-morrow, or Monday morning,
to settle a bit of business I've got on hand, and come back here in time
to attend the sale."
"My wife and me was thinkin' of goin' sir," the landlord answered, with,
unwonted reverence in his voice; and, if it was agreeable, we could
drive you over in a four-wheel shay. Woodbine Cottage is about a mile
and a half from here, and little better than a mile from Maudesley
Abbey. There's a copper coal-scuttle of the old admiral's as my wife has
got rather a fancy for. But p'raps if you was to make a hoffer previous
to the sale, the property might be disposed of as it stands by private
"I'll see about that," answered Major Vernon. "I'll stroll over to
Shorncliffe, this, morning, and look in upon Mr. Grogson--Grogson, I
think you said was the auctioneer's name?"
"Yes, sir; Peter Grogson, and very much looked up to be is, and a warm
man, folks do say. His offices is in Shorncliffe High Street, sir; next
door but two from Mr. Lovell's, the solicitor's, and not more than
half-a-dozen yards from St. Gwendoline's Church."
Major Vernon, as he now chose to call himself, walked from Lisford to
Shorncliffe. He was a very good walker, and, indeed, had become pretty
well used to pedestrian exercise in the course of long weary trampings
from one racecourse to another, when he was so far down on his luck as
to be unable to pay his railway fare. The frost had set in for the first
time this year; so the roads were dry and hard once more, and the sound
of horses' hoofs and rolling wheels, the jingling of bells, the
occasional barking of a noisy sheep-dog, and sturdy labourers' voices
calling to each other on the high-road, travelled far in the thin frosty
The town of Shorncliffe was very quiet to-day, for it was only on
market-days that there was much life or bustle in the queer old streets,
and Major Vernon found no hindrance to the business that had brought him
He went straight to Mr. Grogson, the auctioneer, and from that gentleman
heard all particulars respecting the pending sale at Woodbine Cottage.
The Major offered to take the lease at a fair price, and the furniture,
as it stood, by valuation.
"All I want is a comfortable little place that I can jump into without
any trouble to myself," Major Vernon said, with the air of a man of the
world. "I like to take life easily. If you can honestly recommend the
place as worth seven or eight hundred pounds, I'm willing to pay that
money for it down on the nail. I'll take it at your valuation, if the
present owners are agreeable to sell it on those terms, and I'll pay a
deposit of a couple of hundred or so on Tuesday afternoon, to show that
my proposition is a _bona fide_ one."
A little more was said, and then Mr. Grogson pledged himself to act for
the best in the interests of Major Vernon, consistently with his
allegiance to the present owners of the property.
The auctioneer had been at first a little doubtful of this tall, shabby
stranger in the napless dirty-white beaver and the mangy poodle collar;
but the offer of a deposit of two hundred pounds or so gave a different
aspect to the case. There are always eccentric people in the world, and
appearances are very apt to be deceptive. There was a confident air
about the Major which seemed like that of a man with a balance at his
The Major went back to the Rose and Crown, ate a comfortable little
dinner, which he had ordered before setting out for Shorncliffe, paid
his bill, and made all arrangements for starting by the first train for
London on the following morning. It was nearly ten o'clock by the time
he had done this: but late as it was, Major Vernon put on his hat,
turned his poodle collar up about his ears, and went out into Lisford
There was scarcely one glimmer of light in the street as the Major
walked along it. He took the road leading to Maudesley Abbey, and walked
at a brisk pace, heedless of the snow, which was still falling thick and
He was covered from head to foot with snow when he stopped before the
stone porch, and rang a bell, that made a clanging noise in the
stillness of the night. He looked like some grim white statue that had
descended from its pedestal to stalk hither and thither in the darkness.
The servant who opened the door yawned undisguisedly in the face of his
"Tell Mr. Dunbar that I shall be glad to speak to him for a few
minutes," the Major said, making as if he would have passed into the
"Mr. Dunbar left the habbey uppards of a hour ago," the footman
answered, with supreme hauteur; "but he left a message for you, in case
you was to come. The period of his habsence is huncertain, and if you
wants to kermoonicate with him, you was to please to wait till he come
Major Vernon pushed aside the servant, and strode into the hall. The
doors were open, and through two or three intermediate rooms the Major
saw the tapestried chamber, dark and empty.
There was no doubt that Henry Dunbar had given him the slip--for the
time, at least; but did the banker mean mischief? was there any deep
design in this sudden departure?--that was the question.
"I'll write to your master," the Major said, after a pause; "what's his
"Mr. Dunbar left no address."
"Humph! That's no matter. I can write to him at the bank. Good night."
Major Vernon stalked away through the snow. The footman made no response
to his parting civility, but stood watching him for a few moments, and
then closed the door with a bang.
"Hif that's a spessermin of your Hinjun acquaintances, I don't think
much of Hinjur or Hinjun serciety. But what can you expect of a nation
as insults the gentleman who waits behind his employer's chair at table
by callin' him a kitten-muncher?"
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BACK PARLOUR OF THE BANKING-HOUSE.
Henry Dunbar arrived in London a couple of hours after Mr. Vernon left
the Abbey. He went straight to the Clarendon Hotel. He had no servant
with him, and his luggage consisted only of a portmanteau, a
dressing-case, and a despatch-box; the same despatch-box whose contents
he had so carefully studied at the Winchester hotel, upon the night of
the murder in the grove.
The day after his arrival was Sunday, and all that day the banker
occupied himself in reading a morocco-bound manuscript volume, which he
took from the despatch-box.
There was a black fog upon this November day, and the atmosphere out of
doors was cold and bleak. But the room in which Henry Dunbar sat looked
the very picture of comfort and elegance.
He had drawn his chair close to the fire, and on a table near his elbow
were arranged the open despatch-box, a tall crystal jug of Burgundy,
with a goblet-shaped glass, on a salver, and a case of cigars.
Until long after dark that evening, Henry Dunbar sat by the fire,
smoking and drinking, and reading the manuscript volume. He only paused
now and then to take pencil-notes of its contents in a little
memorandum-book, which he carried in the breast-pocket of his coat.
It was not till seven o'clock, when the liveried servant who waited upon
him came to inform him that his dinner was served in an adjoining
chamber, that Mr. Dunbar rose from his seat and put away the book in the
despatch-box. He laid down the volume on the table while he replaced
other papers in the box, and it fell open at the first page. On that
first page was written, in Henry Dunbar's bold, legible hand--
"_Journal of my life in India, from my arrival in 1815 until my
departure in 1850._"
This was the book the banker had been studying all that winter's day.
At twelve o'clock the next day he ordered a brougham, and was driven to
the banking-house in St. Gundolph Lane. This was the first time that
Henry Dunbar had visited the house in St. Gundolph Lane since his return
Those who knew the history of the present chief partner of the house of
Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby, were in nowise astonished by this fact.
They knew that, as a young man, Henry Dunbar had contracted the tastes
and habits of an aristocrat, and that, if he had afterwards developed
into a clever and successful man of business, it was only by reason of
the force of circumstances, which had thrust him into a position that he
It was by no means wonderful, then, that, after becoming possessor of
the united fortunes of his father and his uncle, Henry Dunbar should
keep aloof from a place that had always been obnoxious to him. The
business had gone on without him very well during his absence, and it
went on without him now, for his place in India had been assumed by a
very clever man, who for twenty years had acted as cashier in the
It may be that the banker had an unpleasant recollection of his last
visit to St. Gundolph Lane, upon the day when the existence of the
forged bills was discovered by Percival and Hugh Dunbar. All the width
of thirty-five years between the present hour and that day might not be
wide enough to separate the memory of the past from the thoughts which
were busy this morning in the mind of Henry Dunbar.
Be it as it might, Mr. Dunbar's reflections this day were evidently not
of a pleasant nature. He was very pale as he rode citywards, in the
comfortable brougham, from the Clarendon; and his face had a stern,
fixed look, like a man who has nerved himself to meet some crisis, which
he knows is near at hand.
There was a stoppage upon Ludgate Hill. Great wooden barricades and
mountains of uprooted paving-stones, amidst which sturdy navigators
disported themselves with spades and pickaxes, and wheelbarrows full of
rubbish, blocked the way; so the brougham turned into Farringdon Street,
and went up Snow Hill, and under the grim black walls of dreadful
The vehicle travelled very slowly, for the traffic was concentrated in
this quarter by reason of the stoppage on Ludgate Hill, and Mr. Dunbar
was able to contemplate at his leisure the black prison-walls, and the
men and women selling dogs'-collars under their dismal shadows.
It may be that the banker's face grew a shade paler after that
contemplation. The corners of his mouth twitched nervously as he got out
of the carriage before the mahogany doors of the banking-house in St.
Gundolph Lane. But he drew a long breath, and held his head proudly
erect as he pushed open the doors and went in.
Never since the day of the discovery of the forged bills had that man
entered the banking-house. Dark thoughts came back upon his mind, and
the shadows deepened on his face as he gave one rapid glance round the
He walked straight towards the private parlour in which that
well-remembered scene had occurred five-and-thirty years ago. But before
he arrived at the door leading from the public offices to the back of
the house, he was stopped by a gentlemanly-looking man, who came forward
from a desk in some shadowy region, and intercepted the stranger.
This man was Clement Austin, the cashier.
"Do you wish to see Mr. Balderby, sir?" he asked.
"Yes. I have an appointment with him at one o'clock. My name is Dunbar."
The cashier bowed and opened the door. The banker passed across the
threshold, which he had not crossed for five-and-thirty years until
But as Mr. Dunbar went towards the familiar parlour at the back of the
banking-house, he stopped for a minute, and looked at the cashier.
Clement Austin was scarcely less pale than Henry Dunbar himself. He had
heard of the banker's intended visit to St. Gundolph Lane, and had
looked forward with strange anxiety to a meeting with the man whom
Margaret Wilmot declared to be the murderer of her father. Now that the
meeting had come to pass, he looked at Henry Dunbar with an earnest,
scrutinizing gaze, as if he would fain have discovered the secret of the
man's guilt or innocence in his countenance.
The banker's face was pale, and grave, and stern; but Clement Austin
knew that for Henry Dunbar there were very humiliating and unpleasant
circumstances connected with the offices in St. Gundolph Lane, and it
was scarcely to be expected that a man would come smiling into a place
out of which he had gone five-and-thirty years before a disgraced and
For a few moments the two men paused in the passage between the public
offices and the private parlour, looking at each other.
The banker's gaze never flinched during that encounter. It is taken as a
strong proof of a man's innocence that he should look you full in the
face with a steadfast gaze when you look at him with suspicion plainly
visible in your eyes; but would he not be the poorest villain if he
shirked that encounter of glances when he knows full surely that he is
in that moment put to the test? It is rather innocence whose eyelids
drop when you peer too closely into its eyes, for innocence is appalled
by the stern, accusing glances which it is unprepared to meet. Guilt
stares you boldly in the face, for guilt is hardened and defiant, and
has this one grand superiority over innocence--that it is _prepared for
Clement Austin opened the door of Mr. Balderby's parlour; Mr. Dunbar
went in unannounced. The cashier closed the parlour-door and returned to
his desk in the public office.
The junior partner was sitting at an office table near the fire writing,
but he rose as the banker entered the room, and went forward to meet
"You are very punctual, Mr. Dunbar," he said.
"Yes, I am generally punctual."
The two men shook hands, and Mr. Balderby wheeled forward a
morocco-covered arm-chair for his senior partner, and then took his seat
opposite to him, with only the small office table between them.
"It may seem late in the day to bid you welcome to the bank, Mr.
Dunbar," said the junior partner, "but I do so, nevertheless--most
There was a flatness in the accent in which these two last words were
spoken, which was like the sound of a false coin when it falls dead upon
a counter and proclaims itself spurious.
Henry Dunbar did not return his partner's greeting. He was looking round
the room, and remembering the day upon which he had last seen it. There
was very little alteration in the appearance of the dismal city chamber.
There was the same wire-blind before the window, the same solitary tree,
leafless, in the narrow courtyard without. The morocco-covered
arm-chairs had been re-covered, perhaps, during that five-and-thirty
years; but if so, the covering had grown shabby again. Even the Turkey
carpet was in the very stage of dusky dinginess that had distinguished
the carpet on which Henry Dunbar had stood five-and-thirty years before.
"I received your letter announcing your journey to London, and your
desire for a private interview, on Saturday afternoon," Mr. Balderby
said, after a pause. "I have made arrangements to assure our being
undisturbed so long as you may remain here. If you wish to make any
investigation of the affairs of the house, I----"
Mr. Dunbar waved his hand with a deprecatory air.
"Nothing is farther from my thoughts than any such design," he said.
"No, Mr. Balderby, I have only been a man of business because all chance
of another career, which I infinitely preferred, was closed upon me
five-and-thirty years ago. I am quite content to be a sleeping-partner
in the house of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby. For ten years prior to my
father's death he took no active part in the business. The house got on
very well without his aid; it will get on equally well without mine. The
business that brings me to London is an entirely personal matter. I am a
rich man, but I don't exactly know how rich I am, and I want to realize
rather a large sum of money."
Mr. Balderby bowed, but his eyebrows went up a little, as if he found it
impossible to control some slight evidence of his surprise.
"Previous to my daughter's marriage I settled upon her the house in
Portland Place and the Yorkshire property. She will have all my money
when I die; and, as Sir Philip Jocelyn is a rich man, she will perhaps
be one of the wealthiest women in England. So far so good. Neither Laura
nor her husband will have any reason for dissatisfaction. But this is
not quite enough, Mr. Balderby. I am not a demonstrative man, and I have
never made any great fuss about my love for my daughter; but I do love
Mr. Dunbar spoke very slowly here, and stopped once or twice to pass his
handkerchief across his forehead, as he had done in the hotel at
"We Anglo-Indians have rather a magnificent way of doing things, Mr.
Balderby" he continued, "when we take it into our heads to do them at
all. I want to give my daughter a diamond-necklace as a wedding present,
and I want it to be such as an Eastern prince or a Rothschild might
offer to his only child. You understand?"
"Oh, perfectly," answered Mr. Balderby; "I shall be most happy to be of
any use to you in the matter."
"All I want is a large sum of money at my command. I may go rather
recklessly to work and make a large investment in this necklace; it will
be something for Lady Jocelyn to bequeath to her children. You and John
Lovell, of Shorncliffe, were the executors to my father's will. You
signed an order for the transfer of my father's money to my account some
time in last September."
"I did, in concurrence with Mr. Lovell."
"Precisely; Lovell wrote me a letter to that effect. My father kept two
accounts here, I believe--a deposit and a drawing account?"
"And those two accounts have gone on since my return in the same manner
as during his lifetime?"
"Precisely. The income which Mr. Percival Dunbar set aside for his own
use was seven thousand a year. He rarely, spent as much as that;
sometimes he spent less than half. The balance of this income, and his
double share in the profits of the business, went to the credit of his
deposit account, and various sums have been withdrawn from time to time,
and duly invested under his order."
"Perhaps you can let me see the ledgers containing those two accounts?"
Mr. Balderby touched the spring of a handbell upon his table.
"Ask Mr. Austin to bring the daily balance and deposit accounts
ledgers," he said to the person who answered his summons.
Clement Austin appeared five minutes afterwards, carrying two ponderous
Mr. Balderby opened both ledgers, and placed them before his senior
partner. Henry Dunbar looked at the deposit account. His eyes ran
eagerly down the long row of figures before him until they came to the
sum total. Then his chest heaved, and he drew a long breath, like a man
who feels almost stifled by some internal oppression.
The last figures in the page were these:
_137,926l. 17s. 2d._
One hundred and thirty-seven thousand nine hundred and twenty-six pounds
seventeen shillings and twopence. The twopence seemed a ridiculous
anti-climax; but business-men are necessarily as exact in figures as
"How is this money invested?" asked Henry Dunbar, pointing to the page.
His fingers trembled a little as he did so, and he dropped his hand
suddenly upon the ledger.
"There's fifty thousand in India stock," Mr. Balderby answered, as
indifferently as if fifty thousand pounds more or less was scarcely
worth speaking of; "and there's five-and-twenty in railway debentures,
Great Western. Most of the remainder is floating in Exchequer bills."
"Then you can realize the Exchequer bills?"
Mr. Balderby winced as if some one had trodden upon one of his corns. He
was a banker heart and soul, and he did not at all relish the idea of
any withdrawal of the bank's resources, however firm that establishment
"It's rather a large amount of capital to withdraw from the business,"
he said, rubbing his chin, thoughtfully.
"I suppose the bank can afford it!" Mr. Dunbar exclaimed, with a tone of
"Oh, yes; the bank can afford it well enough. Our calls are sometimes
heavy. Lord Yarsfield--a very old customer--talks of buying an estate in
Wales; he may come down upon us at any moment for a very stiff sum of
money. However, the capital is yours, Mr. Dunbar; and you've a right to
dispose of it as you please. The Exchequer bills shall be realized
"Good; and if you can dispose of the railway bonds to advantage, you may
"You think of spending----"
"I think of reinvesting the money. I have an offer of an estate north of
the metropolis, which I think will realize cent per cent a few years
hence: but that is an after consideration. At present we have only to do
with the diamond-necklace for my daughter. I shall buy the diamonds
myself, direct from the merchant-importers. You will hold yourself ready
after Wednesday, we'll say, to cash some very heavy cheques on my
"Certainly, Mr. Dunbar."
"Then I think that is really all I have to say. I shall be happy to see
you at the Clarendon, if you will dine with me any evening that you are
There was very little heartiness in the tone of this invitation; and Mr.
Balderby perfectly understood that it was only a formula which Mr.
Dunbar felt himself called upon to go through. The junior partner
murmured his acknowledgment of Henry Dunbar's politeness; and then the
two men talked together for a few minutes on indifferent subjects.
Five minutes afterwards Mr. Dunbar rose to leave the room. He went into
the passage between Mr. Balderby's parlour and the public offices of the
bank. This passage was very dark; but the offices were well lighted by
lofty plate-glass windows. Between the end of the passage and the outer
doors of the bank, Henry Dunbar saw the figure of a woman sitting near
one of the desks and talking to Clement Austin.
The banker stopped suddenly, and went back to the parlour.
He looked about him a little absently as he re-entered the room.
"I thought I brought a cane," he said.
"I think not," replied Mr. Balderby, rising from before his desk. "I
don't remember seeing one in your hand."
"Ah, then, I suppose I was mistaken."
He still lingered in the parlour, putting on his gloves very slowly, and
looking out of the window into the dismal backyard, where there was a
dingy little wooden door set deep in the stone wall.
While the banker loitered near the window, Clement Austin came into the
room, to show some document to the junior partner. Henry Dunbar turned
round as the cashier was about to leave the parlour.
"I saw a woman just now talking to you in the office. That's not very
business-like, is it, Mr. Austin? Who is the woman?"
"She is a young lady, sir."
"A young lady?"
"What brings her here?"
The cashier hesitated for a moment before he replied, "She--wishes to
see you, Mr. Dunbar," he said, after that brief pause.
"What is her name?--who--who is she?"
"Her name is Wilmot--Margaret Wilmot."
"I know no such person!" answered the banker, haughtily, but looking
nervously at the half-opened door as he spoke.
"Shut that door, sir!" he said, impatiently, to the cashier; "the
draught from the passage is strong enough to cut a man in two. Who is
this Margaret Wilmot?"
"The daughter of that unfortunate man, Joseph Wilmot, who was cruelly
murdered at Winchester!" answered the cashier, very gravely.
He looked Henry Dunbar full in the face as he spoke.
The banker returned his look as unflinchingly as he had done before, and
spoke in a hard, unfaltering voice as he answered: "Tell this person,
Margaret Wilmot, that I refuse to see her to-day, as I refused to see
her in Portland Place, and as I refused to see her at Winchester!" he
said, deliberately. "Tell her that I shall always refuse to see her,
whenever or wherever she makes an attack upon me. I have suffered enough
already on account of that hideous business at Winchester, and I shall
most resolutely defend myself from any further persecution. This young
person can have no possible motive for wishing to see me. If she is poor
and wants money of me, I am ready and willing to assist her. I have
already offered to do so--I can do no more. But if she is in
"She is not in distress, Mr. Dunbar," interrupted Clement Austin. "She
has friends who love her well enough to shield her from that."
"Indeed; and you are one of those friends, I suppose, Mr. Austin?"
"Prove your friendship, then, by teaching Margaret Wilmot that she has a
friend and not an enemy in me. If you are--as I suspect from your
manner--something more than a friend: if you love her, and she returns
your love, marry her, and she shall have a dowry that no gentleman's
wife need be ashamed to bring to her husband."
There was no anger, no impatience in the banker's voice now, but a tone
of deep feeling. Clement Austin locked at him, astonished by the change
in his manner.
Henry Dunbar saw the look, and it seemed as if he endeavoured to answer
"You have no need to be surprised that I shrink from seeing Margaret
Wilmot," he said. "Cannot you understand that my nerves may be none of
the strongest, and that I cannot endure the idea of an interview with
this girl, who, no doubt, by her persistent pursuit of me, suspects me
of her father's murder? I am an old man, and I have been thirty-five
years in India. My health is shattered, and I have a horror of all
tragic scenes. I have not yet recovered from the shock of that horrible
business at Winchester. Go and tell Margaret Wilmot this: tell her that
I will be her true friend if she will accept that friendship, but that I
will not see her until she has learned to think better of me."
There was something very straightforward, very simple, in all this. For
a time, at least, Clement Austin's mind wavered. Margaret was, perhaps,
wrong, after all, and Henry Dunbar might be an innocent man.
It was Clement who had informed Margaret of Mr. Dunbar's expected
presence here upon this day; and it was on the strength of that
information that the girl had come to St. Gundolph Lane, with the
determination of seeing the man whom she believed to be the murderer of
Clement returned to the office, where he had left Margaret, in order to
repeat to her Mr. Dunbar's message.
No sooner had the door of the parlour closed upon the cashier than Henry
Dunbar turned abruptly to his junior partner.
"There is a door leading from the yard into a court that connects St.
Gundolph Lane with another lane at the back," he said, "is there not?"
He pointed to the dark little yard outside the window as he spoke.
"Yes, there is a door, I believe."
"Is it locked?"
"No; it is seldom locked till four o'clock; the clerks use it sometimes,
when they go in and out."
"Then I shall go out that way," said Mr. Dunbar, who was almost
breathless in his haste. "You can send the carriage back to the
Clarendon by-and-by. I don't want to see that girl. Good morning."
He hurried out of the parlour, and into a passage leading to the yard,
followed by Mr. Balderby, who wondered at his senior partner's
excitement. The door in the yard was not locked. Henry Dunbar opened it,
went out into the court, and closed the door behind him.
So, for the third time, he escaped from an interview with Margaret
CLEMENT AUSTIN'S WOOING.
For the third time Margaret Wilmot was disappointed in the hope of
seeing Henry Dunbar. Clement Austin had on the previous evening told her
of the banker's intended visit to the office in St. Gundolph Lane, and
the young music-mistress had made hasty arrangements for the
postponement of her usual duties, in order that she might go to the City
to see Henry Dunbar.
"He will not dare to refuse you," Clement Austin said; "for he must know
that such a refusal would excite suspicion in the minds of the people
"He must have known that at Winchester, and yet he avoided me there,"
answered Margaret Wilmot; "he must have known it when he refused to see
me in Portland Place. He will refuse to see me to-day, if I ask for an
interview with him. My only chance will be the chance of an accidental
meeting with Him. Do you think that you can arrange this for me, Mr.
Clement Austin readily promised to bring about an apparently accidental
meeting between Margaret and Mr. Dunbar, and this is how it was that
Joseph Wilmot's daughter had waited in the office in St. Gundolph Lane.
She had arrived only five minutes after Mr. Dunbar entered the
banking-house, and she waited very patiently, very resolutely, in the
hope that when Henry Dunbar returned to his carriage she might snatch
the opportunity of speaking to him, of seeing his face, and discovering
whether he was guilty or not.
She clung to the idea that some indefinable expression of his
countenance would reveal the fact of his guilt or innocence. But she
could not dispossess herself of the belief that he was guilty. What
other reason could there be for his persistent avoidance of her?
But, for the third time, she was baffled; and she went home very
despondently, haunted by the image of her dead father; while Henry
Dunbar went back to the Clarendon in a common hack cab, which he picked
up in Cornhill.
Margaret Wilmot found one of her pupils waiting in the pretty little
parlour in the cottage at Clapham, and she was obliged to sit down to
the piano and listen to a fantasia, very badly played, keeping sharp
watch upon the pupil's fingers, for an hour or so, before she was free
to think her own thoughts.
Margaret was very glad when the lesson was over. The pupil was a very
vivacious young lady, who called her music-mistress "dear," and would
have been glad to waste half an hour or so in an animated conversation
about the last new style in bonnets, or the shape of the fashionable
winter mantle, or the popular novel of the month. But Margaret's pale
face seemed a mute appeal for compassion; so Miss Lamberton drew on her
gloves, settled her bonnet before the glass over the mantel-piece, and
Margaret sat by the little round table, with an open book before her.
But she could not read, though the volume was one that had been lent her
by Clement, and though she took a peculiar pleasure in reading any book
that was a favourite of his. She did not read; she only sat with her
eyes fixed, and her face very pale, in the dim light of two candles that
flickered in the draught from the window.
She was aroused from her despondent reverie by a double knock at the
door below, and presently the neat little maid-servant ushered Mr.
Austin into the room.
Margaret started up, a little confused at the advent of this unexpected
visitor. It was the first time that Clement had ever called upon her
alone. He had often been her guest; but, until to-night, he had always
come under his mother's wing to see the pretty music-mistress.
"I am afraid I startled you, Miss Wilmot," he said.
"Oh, no; not at all," answered Margaret; "I was sitting here, quite
"Thinking of your failure of to-day, I suppose?"
There was a pause, during which Margaret seated herself once more by the
little table, while Clement Austin walked up and down the room thinking.
Presently he stopped suddenly, with his elbow leaning upon the corner of
the mantel-piece, opposite Margaret, and looked down at the girl's
thoughtful face. She had blushed when the cashier first entered the
room; but she was very pale now.
"Margaret," said Clement Austin,--it was the first time he had called
his mother's _protegee_ by her Christian name, and the girl looked up at
him with a surprised expression,--"Margaret, that which happened to-day
makes me think that your conviction is only the horrible truth, and that
Henry Dunbar, the sole surviving kinsman of those two men whom I learnt
to honour and revere long ago, when I was a mere boy, is indeed guilty
of your father's death. If so, the cause of justice demands that this
man's crime should be brought to light. I am something of Shakspeare's
opinion; I cannot but believe that 'murder will out,' somehow or other,
sooner or later. But I think that, in this business, the police have
been culpably supine. It seems as if they feared to handle the case to
closely, lest the clue they followed should lead them to Henry Dunbar."
"You think they have been, bribed?"
"No; I don't think that. There seems to be a popular belief, all over
the world, that a man with a million of money can do no wrong. I don't
believe the police have been culpable; they have only been
faint-hearted. They have suffered themselves to be discouraged by the
difficulties of the case. Other crimes have been committed, other work
has arisen for them to do, and they have been obliged to abandon an
investigation which seemed hopeless. This is how criminals escape--this
is how murderers are suffered to be at large; not because discovery is
impossible, but because it can only be effected by a slow and wearisome
process in which so few men have courage to persevere. While the country
is ringing with the record of a great crime--while the murderer is on
his guard night and day, waking and sleeping--the police watch and work:
but by-and-by, when the crime is half forgotten--when security has made
the criminal careless--when the chances of detection are ten-fold--the
police have grown tired, and there is no eye to watch the guilty man's
movements. I know nothing of the science of detection, Margaret; but I
believe that Henry Dunbar was the murderer of your father; and I will do
my uttermost, with God's help, to bring this crime home to him."
The girl's eyes flashed with a proud light, as Clement Austin finished
"Will you do this?" she said; "will you bring to light the mystery of my
father's death? Will you bring punishment upon his murderer? It seems a
horrible thing, perhaps, for a woman to wish detection to overtake any
man, however base; but surely it would be more horrible if I were
content to let my father's murder remain unavenged. My poor father! If
he had been a good man, I do not think it would grieve me so much to
remember his cruel death: but he was not a good man--he was not a good
"Let him have been what he may, Margaret, his murderer shall not go
unpunished if I can aid the cause of justice," said Clement Austin. "But
it was not to say this alone that I came here to-night, Margaret. I have
something more to say to you."
There was a tenderness in the cashier's voice as he said these last
words, that brought the blushes back to Margaret's pale cheeks.
"You know that I love you, Margaret," Clement said, in a low, earnest
voice; "you must know that I love you: or if you do not, it is because
there is no sympathy between us, and in that case my love is indeed
hopeless. I have loved you from the first, dear--yes, from the very
first summer twilight in which I saw your pale, pensive face in the
dusky little garden at Wandsworth. The tender interest which I then felt
in you was the first mysterious dawn of love, though I, in my infinite
wisdom, put it down to an artistic admiration for your peculiar beauty.
It was love, Margaret; and it has grown and strengthened in my heart
ever since that summer evening, until it leads me here to-night to tell
you all, and to ask you if there is any hope. Ah, Margaret, you must
have known my love all along! You would have banished me had you felt
that my love was hopeless: you could not have been so cruel as to
Margaret looked up at her lover with a frightened face. Had she done
wrong, then, to be happy in his society, if she did not love him--if she
did not love him! But surely this sudden thrill of triumph and delight
which filled her breast, as Clement spoke to her, must be in some degree
akin to love.
Yes, she loved him; but the bright things of this world were not for
her. Love and Duty fought for the mastery of her pure Soul: and Duty was
"Oh, Clement!" she said, "do you forget who I am? Do you forget that
letter which I showed you long ago, a letter addressed to my father when
he was a transported felon, suffering the penalty of his crime? Do you
forget who I am, and the taint that is in my blood; the disgrace that
stains my name? I am proud to think that you have loved me, Clement
Austin; but I am no fitting wife for you!"
"You are a noble, true-hearted woman, Margaret; and as such you are a
fitting wife for a king. Besides, I am not such a grandee that I need
look for high lineage in the wife of my choice. I am only a working man,
content to accept a salary for my services; and looking forward
by-and-by to a junior partnership in the house I serve. Margaret, my
mother loves you; and she knows that you are the woman I seek to win as
my wife. Forget the taint upon your dead father's name as freely as I
forget it, dearest; and only answer me one question; Is my love
"I will never consent to be your wife, Mr. Austin!" Margaret answered,
in a low voice.
"Because you do not love me?"
"Because I will never cause you to blush for the history of your wife's
"That is no answer to my question, Margaret," said Clement Austin,
seating himself by her side, and taking both her hands in his. "I must
ask you to look me full in the face, Miss Wilmot," he added, laughingly,
drawing her towards him as he spoke; "for I begin to fancy you're
addicted to prevarication. Look me in the face, Madge darling, and tell
me that you love me."
But the blushing face would not be turned towards his own. Margaret's
head was still averted.
"Don't ask me," she pleaded; "don't ask me. The day would come when you
would regret your choice. I could not endure that. It would be too
bitter. You have been very kind to me; and it would be a poor return for
your kindness, if----"
"If you were to make me unutterably happy, eh, Margaret? I think it
would be only a proper act of gratitude. Haven't I run all over Clapham,
Brixton, and Wandsworth--to say nothing of an occasional incursion upon
Putney--in order to procure you half-a-dozen pupils? And the very first
favour I demand of you, which is only the gift of this clever little
hand, you have the audacity to refuse me point-blank."
He waited for a few moments, in the hope that Margaret would say
something; but her face was still averted, and the trembling hand which
Mr. Austin was holding struggled to release itself from his grasp.
"Margaret," he said, very gravely, "perhaps I have been foolish and
presumptuous in this business. In that case I fully deserve to be
disappointed, however bitter the disappointment may be. If I have been
wrong, Margaret; if I have been deceived by your sweet smile, your
gentle words; for pity's sake tell me that it is so, and I will forgive
you for having involuntarily deceived me, and will try to cure myself of
my folly. But I will not leave this room, I will not abandon the dear
hope that has brought me here to-night, until you tell me plainly that
you do not love me. Speak, Margaret, and speak fearlessly."
But Margaret was still silent, only in the silence Clement Austin heard
a low, sobbing sound.
"Margaret darling, you are crying. Ah! I know now that you love me, and
I will not leave this room except as your plighted husband."
"Heaven help me!" murmured Joseph Wilmot's daughter; "Heaven lead me
right! for I do love you, Clement, with all my heart"
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