Phantom Fortune, A Novel
M. E. Braddon
Part 1 out of 10
Produced by Jonathan Ingram and PG Distributed Proofreaders
BY THE AUTHOR OF "LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET," "VIXEN," ETC. ETC. ETC.
III. ON THE WRONG ROAD
IV. THE LAST STAGE
V. FORTY YEARS AFTER
VI. MAULEVRIER'S HUMBLE FRIEND
VII. IN THE SUMMER MORNING
VIII. THERE IS ALWAYS A SKELETON
IX. A CRY IN THE DARKNESS
X. 'O BITTERNESS OF THINGS TOO SWEET'
XI. 'IF I WERE TO DO AS ISEULT DID'
XII. 'THE GREATER CANTLE OF THE WORLD IS LOST'
XIII. 'SINCE PAINTED OR NOT PAINTED ALL SHALL FADE'
XIV. 'NOT YET'
XV. 'OF ALL MEN ELSE I HAVE AVOIDED THEE'
XVI. 'HER FACE RESIGNED TO BLISS OR BALE'
XVII. 'AND THE SPRING COMES SLOWLY UP THIS WAY'
XVIII. 'AND COME AGEN, BE IT BY NIGHT OR DAY'
XIX. THE OLD MAN ON THE FELL
XX. LADY MAULEVRIER'S LETTER-BAG
XXI. ON THE DARK BROW OF HELVELLYN
XXII. WISER THAN LESBIA
XXIII. 'A YOUNG LAMB'S HEART AMONG THE FULL-GROWN FLOCKS'
XXIV. 'NOW NOTHING LEFT TO LOVE OR HATE'
XXV. CARTE BLANCHE
XXVI. 'PROUD CAN I NEVER BE OF WHAT I HATE'
XXVII. LESBIA CROSSES PICCADILLY
XXVIII. 'CLUBS, DIAMONDS, HEARTS, IN WILD DISORDER SEEN'
XXIX. 'SWIFT, SUBTLE POST, CARRIER OF GRISLY CARE'
XXX. 'ROSES CHOKED AMONG THORNS AND THISTLES'
XXXI. 'KIND IS MY LOVE TO-DAY, TO-MORROW KIND'
XXXII. WAYS AND MEANS
XXXIII. BY SPECIAL LICENCE
XXXIV. 'OUR LOVE WAS NEW, AND THEN BUT IN THE SPRING'
XXXV. 'ALL FANCY, PRIDE, AND FICKLE MAIDENHOOD'
XXXVI. A RASTAQUOUERE
XXXVII. LORD HARTFIELD REFUSES A FORTUNE
XXXVIII. ON BOARD THE 'CAYMAN'
XXXIX. IN STORM AND DARKNESS
XL. A NOTE OF ALARM
XLI. PRIVILEGED INFORMATION
XLII. 'SHALL IT BE?'
XLIII. 'ALAS, FOR SORROW IS ALL THE END OF THIS'
XLIV. 'OH, SAD KISSED MOUTH, HOW SORROWFUL IT IS!'
XLV. 'THAT FELL ARREST WITHOUT ALL BAIL'
XLVI. THE DAY OF RECKONING
[Illustration: H. French, del.) (T. Symmons, sc. "The old man sat looking
at Mary in silence for some moments."--Page 171.]
People dined earlier forty years ago than they do now. Even that salt of
the earth, the elect of society, represented by that little great world
which lies between the narrow circle bounded by Bryanstone Square on the
north and by Birdcage Walk on the south, did not consider seven o'clock
too early an hour for a dinner party which was to be followed by routs,
drums, concerts, conversazione, as the case might be. It was seven
o'clock on a lovely June evening, and the Park was already deserted, and
carriages were rolling swiftly along all the Westend squares, carrying
rank, fashion, wealth, and beauty, political influence, and intellectual
power, to the particular circle in which each was destined to illumine
upon that particular evening.
Stateliest among London squares, Grosvenor--in some wise a wonder to the
universe as newly lighted with gas--grave Grosvenor, with its heavy old
Georgian houses and pompous porticoes, sparkled and shone, not alone
with the novel splendour of gas, but with the light of many wax candles,
clustering flower-like in silver branches and girandoles, multiplying
their flame in numerous mirrors; and of all the houses in that stately
square none had a more imposing aspect than Lord Denyer's dark red brick
mansion, with stone dressings, and the massive grandeur of an Egyptian
Lord Denyer was an important personage in the political and diplomatic
world. He had been ambassador at Constantinople and at Paris, and had
now retired on his laurels, an influence still, but no longer an active
power in the machine of government. At his house gathered all that was
most brilliant in London society. To be seen at Lady Denyer's, evening
parties was the guinea stamp of social distinction; to dine with Lord
Denyer was an opening in life, almost as valuable as University honours,
and more difficult of attainment.
It was during the quarter of an hour before dinner that a group of
persons, mostly personages, congregated round Lord Denyer's
chimney-piece, naturally trending towards the social hearth, albeit it
was the season for roses and lilies rather than of fires, and the hum of
the city was floating in upon the breath of the warm June evening
through the five tall windows which opened upon Lord Denyer's balcony.
The ten or twelve persons assembled seemed only a sprinkling in the large
lofty room, furnished sparsely with amber satin sofas, a pair of Florentine
marble tables, and half an acre or so of looking glass. Voluminous amber
draperies shrouded the windows, and deadened the sound of rolling wheels,
and the voices and footfalls of western London. The drawing rooms of those
days were neither artistic nor picturesque--neither Early English nor Low
Dutch, nor Renaissance, nor Anglo-Japanese. A stately commonplace
distinguished the reception rooms of the great world. Upholstery stagnated
at a dead level of fluted legs, gilding, plate glass, and amber satin.
Lady Denyer stood a little way in advance of the group on the hearthrug,
fanning herself, with her eye on the door, while she listened languidly
to the remarks of a youthful diplomatist, a sprig of a lordly tree, upon
the last _debut_ at Her Majesty's Theatre.
'My own idea was that she screamed,' said her ladyship. 'But the new
Rosinas generally do scream. Why do we have a new Rosina every year,
whom nobody ever hears of afterwards? What becomes of them? Do they die,
or do they set up as singing mistresses in second-rate watering-places?'
hazarded her ladyship, with her eye always on the door.
She was a large woman in amethyst satin, and a gauze turban with a
diamond aigrette, a splendid jewel, which would not have misbeseemed the
head-gear of an Indian prince. Lady Denyer was one of the last women who
wore a turban, and that Oriental head-dress became her bold and massive
Infinitely bored by the whiskerless attache, who had entered upon a
disquisition on the genius of Rossini as compared with this new man
Meyerbeer, her ladyship made believe to hear, while she listened
intently to the confidential murmurs of the group on the hearthrug, the
little knot of personages clustered round Lord Denyer. Hi 'Indian mail
in this morning,' said one--'nothing else talked of at the club. Very
flagrant case! A good deal worse than Warren Hastings. Quite clear there
must be a public inquiry--House of Lords--criminal prosecution.'
'I was told on very good authority, that he has been recalled, and is
now on his passage home,' said another man.
Lord Denyer shrugged his shoulders, pursed up his lips, and looked
ineffably wise, a way he had when he knew very little about the subject
'How will _she_ take it, do you think?' inquired Colonel Madison, of the
Life Guards, a man about town, and an inveterate gossip, who knew
everybody, and everybody's family history, down to the peccadilloes of
people's great grandmothers.
'You will have an opportunity of judging,' replied his lordship, coolly.
'She's to be here this evening.'
'But do you think she'll show?' asked the Colonel. 'The mail must have
brought the news to her, as well as to other people--supposing she knew
nothing about it beforehand. She must know that the storm has burst. Do
you think she'll----'
'Come out in the thunder and lightning?' interrupted Lord Denver; 'I'm
sure she will. She has the pride of Lucifer and the courage of a lion.
Five to one in ponies that she is here before the clock strikes seven!'
'I think you are right. I knew her mother, Constance Talmash. Pluck was
a family characteristic of the Talmashes. Wicked as devils, and brave as
lions. Old Talmash, the grandfather, shot his valet in a paroxysm of
_delirium tremens_,' said Colonel Madison. 'She's a splendid woman, and
she won't flinch. I'd rather back her than bet against her.'
'Lady Maulevrier!' announced the groom of the chambers; and Lady Denyer
moved at least three paces forward to meet her guest.
The lady who entered, with slow and stately movements and proudly
balanced head, might have served for a model as Juno or the Empress
Livia. She was still in the bloom of youth, at most seven-and-twenty,
but she had all the calm assurance of middle-age. No dowager, hardened
by the varied experiences of a quarter of a century in the great world,
could have faced society with more perfect coolness and self-possession.
She was beautiful, and she let the world see that she was conscious of
her beauty, and the power that went along with it. She was clever, and
she used her cleverness with unfailing tact and unscrupulous audacity.
She had won her place in the world as an acknowledged beauty, and one of
the leaders of fashion. Two years ago she had been the glory and delight
of Anglo-Indian society in the city of Madras, ruling that remote and
limited kingdom with a despotic power. Then all of a sudden she was
ordered, or she ordered her physician to order her, an immediate
departure from that perilous climate, and she came back to England with
her three-year-old son, two Ayahs, and four European servants, leaving
her husband, Lord Maulevrier, Governor of the Madras Presidency, to
finish the term of his service in an enforced widowhood.
She returned to be the delight of London society. She threw open the
family mansion in Curzon Street to the very best people, but to those
only. She went out a great deal, but she was never seen at a second-rate
party. She had not a single doubtful acquaintance upon her visiting
list. She spent half of every year at the family seat in Scotland, was a
miracle of goodness to the poor of her parish, and taught her boy his
Lord Denyer came forward while his wife and Lady Maulevrier were shaking
hands, and greeted her with more than his usual cordiality. Colonel
Madison watched for the privilege of a recognising nod from the
divinity. Sir Jasper Paulet, a legal luminary of the first brilliancy,
likely to be employed for the Crown if there should be an inquiry into
Lord Maulevrier's conduct out yonder, came to press Lady Maulevrier's
hand and murmur a tender welcome.
She accepted their friendliness as a matter of course, and not by the
faintest extra quiver of the tremulous stars which glittered in a
circlet above her raven hair did she betray her consciousness of the
cloud that darkened her husband's reputation. Never had she appeared
gayer, or more completely satisfied with herself and the world in which
she lived. She was ready to talk about anything and everything--the
newly-wedded queen, and the fortunate Prince, whose existence among us
had all the charm of novelty--of Lord Melbourne's declining health--and
Sir Robert Peel's sliding scale--mesmerism--the Oxford Tracts--the
latest balloon ascent--the opera--Macready's last production at Drury
lane--Bulwer's new novel--that clever little comic paper, just
struggling into popularity--what do you call the thing--_Punch?_--yes,
_Punch, or the London Charivari_--a much more respectable paper than its
Seated next Lord Denyer, who was an excellent listener, Lady
Maulevrier's vivacity never flagged throughout the dinner, happily not
so long as a modern banquet, albeit more ponderous and not less
expensive. From the turtle to the pines and strawberries, Lady
Maulevrier held her host or her right-hand neighbour in interested
conversation. She always knew the particular subjects likely to interest
particular people, and was a good listener as well as a good talker. Her
right-hand neighbour was Sir Jasper Paulet, who had been allotted to the
pompous wife of a court physician, a lady who had begun her married life
in the outer darkness of Guildford Street, Bloomsbury, with a household
consisting of a maid-of-all-work and a boy in buttons, with an
occasional interregnum of charwoman; and for whom all the length and
breadth of Harley Street was now much too small.
Sir Jasper was only decently civil to this haughty matron, who on the
strength of a card for a ball or a concert at the palace once in a
season affected to be on the most intimate terms with Royalty, and knew
everything that happened, and every fluctuation of opinion in that
charmed circle. The great lawyer's left ear was listening greedily for
any word of meaning that might fall from the lips of Lady Maulevrier;
but no such word fell. She talked delightfully, with a touch-and-go
vivacity which is the highest form of dinner-table talk, not dwelling
with a heavy hand upon any one subject, but glancing from theme to theme
with airy lightness. But not one word did she say about the governor of
Madras; and at this juncture of affairs it would have been the worst
possible taste to inquire too closely after his lordship's welfare.
So the dinner wore on to its stately close, and just as the solemn
procession of flunkeys, long as the shadowy line of the kings in
'Macbeth,' filed off with the empty ice-dishes, Lady Maulevrier said
something which was as if a shell had exploded in the middle of the
'Perhaps you are surprised to see me in such good spirits,' she said,
beaming upon her host, and speaking in those clear, perfectly finished
syllables which are heard further than the louder accents of less
polished speakers, 'but you will not wonder when I let you into the
secret. Maulevrier is on his way home.'
'Indeed!' said Lord Denyer, with the most benignant smile he could
command at such short notice. He felt that the muscles round his eyes
and the corners of his mouth were betraying too much of his real
sentiments. 'You must be very glad.'
'I am gladder than I can say,' answered Lady Maulevrier, gaily. 'That
horried climate--a sky like molten copper--an atmosphere that tastes of
red-hot sand--that flat barren coast never suited him. His term of
office would expire in little more than a year, but I hardly think he
could have lived out the year. However, I am happy to say the mail that
came in to-day--I suppose you know the mail is in?' (Lord Denyer
bowed)--'brought me a letter from his Lordship, telling me that he has
sent in his resignation, and taken his passage by the next big ship that
leaves Madras. I imagine he will be home in October.'
'If he have a favourable passage,' said Lord Denyer. 'Favoured by your
good wishes the winds and the waves ought to deal gently with him.'
'Ah, we have done with the old days of Greek story, when Neptune was
open to feminine influence,' sighed her ladyship. 'My poor Ulysses has
no goddess of wisdom to look after him.'
'Perhaps not, but he has the most charming of Penelopes waiting for him
'A Penelope who goes to dinners, and takes life pleasantly in his
absence. That is a new order of things, is it not?' said her ladyship,
laughingly. 'I hope my poor Ulysses will not come home thoroughly broken
in health, but that our Sutherlandshire breezes will set him up again.'
'Rather an ordeal after India, I should think,' said Lord Denyer.
'It is his native air. He will revel in it.'
'Delicious country, no doubt,' assented, his lordship, who was no
sportsman, and who detested Scotland, grouse moors, deer forests, salmon
His only idea of a winter residence was Florence or Capri, and of the
two he preferred Capri. The island was at that time little frequented by
Englishmen. It had hardly been fashionable since the time of Tiberius,
but Lord Denyer went there, accompanied by his French chef, and a dozen
other servants, and roughed it in a native hotel; while Lady Denyer
wintered at the family seat among the hills near Bath, and gave herself
over to Low Church devotion, and works of benevolence. She made herself
a terror to the neighbourhood by the strictness of her ideas all through
the autumn and winter; and in the spring she went up to London, put on
her turban and her diamonds, and plunged into the vortex of West-End
society, where she revolved among other jewelled matrons for the season,
telling herself and her intimates that this sacrifice of inclination was
due to his lordship's position. Lady Denyer was not the less
serious-minded because she was seen at every aristocratic resort, and
wore low gowns with very short sleeves, and a great display of mottled
arm and dimpled elbow.
Now came her ladyship's smiling signal for the withdrawal of that fairer
half of the assembly which was supposed to be indifferent to Lord
Denyer's famous port and Madeira. She had been throwing out her gracious
signals unperceived for at least five minutes before Lady Maulevrier
responded, so entirely was that lady absorbed in her conversation with
Lord Denyer; but she caught the look at last, and rose, as if moved by
the same machinery which impelled her hostess, and then, graceful as a
swan sailing with the current, she drifted down the room to the distant
door, and headed the stately procession of matronly velvet and diamonds,
herself at once the most regal and the most graceful figure in that bevy
of fair woman.
In the drawing-room nobody could be gayer than Lady Maulevrier, as she
marked the time of Signor Paponizzi's saltarello, exquisitely performed
on the Signor's famed Amati violin--or talked of the latest
scandal--always excepting that latest scandal of all which involved her
own husband--in subdued murmurs with one of her intimates. In the
dining-room the men drew closer together over their wine, and tore Lord
Maulevrier's character to rags. Yea, they rent him with their teeth and
gnawed the flesh from his bones, until there was not so much left of him
as the dogs left of Jezebel.
He had been a scamp from his cradle, a spendthrift at Eton and Oxford, a
blackleg in his manhood. False to men, false to women. Clever? Yes,
undoubtedly, just as Satan is clever, and as unscrupulous as that very
Satan. This was what his friends said of him over their wine. And now he
was rumoured to have sold the British forces in the Carnatic provinces
to one of the native Princes. Yes, to have taken gold, gold to an amount
which Clive in his most rapacious moments never dreamt of, for his
countrymen's blood. Tidings of dark transactions between the Governor
and the native Princes had reached the ears of the Government, tidings
so vague, so incredible, that the Government might naturally be slow to
believe, still slower to act. There were whispers of a woman's
influence, a beautiful Ranee, a creature as fascinating and as
unscrupulous as Cleopatra. The scandal had been growing for months past,
but it was only in the letters received to-day that the rumour had taken
a tangible shape, and now it was currently reported that Lord Maulevrier
had been recalled, and would have to answer at the bar of the House of
Lords for his misdemeanours, which were of a much darker colour than
those acts for which Warren Hastings had been called to account fifty
Yet in the face of all this, Lady Maulevrier bore herself as proudly as
if her husband's name were spotless, and talked of his return with all
the ardour of a fond and trusting wife.
'One of the finest bits of acting I ever saw in my life,' said the court
physician. 'Mademoiselle Mars never did anything better.'
'Do you really think it was acting?' inquired Lord Denyer, affecting a
youthful candour and trustfulness which at his age, and with his
experience, he could hardly be supposed to possess.
'I know it,' replied the doctor. 'I watched her while she was talking of
Maulevrier, and I saw just one bead of perspiration break out on her
upper lip--an unmistakable sign of the mental struggle.'
October was ending drearily with north-east winds, dust, drifting dead
leaves, and a steel-grey sky; and the Dolphin Hotel at Southampton was
glorified by the presence of Lady Maulevrier and suite. Her ladyship's
suite was on this occasion limited to three servants--her French maid, a
footman, and a kind of factotum, a man of no distinct and arbitrary
signification in her ladyship's household, neither butler nor steward,
but that privileged being, an old and trusted servant, and a person who
was supposed to enjoy more of Lady Maulevrier's confidence than any
other member of her establishment.
This James Steadman had been valet to her ladyship's father, Lord
Peverill, during the declining years of that nobleman. The narrow limits
of a sick room had brought the master and servant into a closer
companionship than is common to that relation. Lady Diana Angersthorpe
was a devoted daughter, and in her attendance upon the Earl during the
last three years of his life--a life which closed more than a year
before her own marriage--she saw a great deal of James Steadman, and
learned to trust him as servants are not often trusted. He was not more
than twenty years of age at the beginning of his service, but he was a
man of extraordinary gravity, much in advance of his years; a man of
shrewd common-sense and clear, sharp intellect. Not a reading man, or a
man in any way superior to his station and belongings, but a man who
could think quickly, and understand quickly, and who always seemed to
think rightly. Prompt in action, yet steady as a rock, and to all
appearance recognising no earthly interest, no human tie, beyond or
above the interests of his master. As a nurse Steadman showed himself
invaluable. Lord Peverill left him a hundred pounds in acknowledgment of
his services, which was something for Lord Peverill, who had very little
ready cash wherewith to endow his only daughter. After his death the
title and the estates went to a distant cousin; Lady Diana Angersthorpe
was taken in hand by her aunt, the Dowager Marchioness of Carrisbrook;
and James Steadman would have had to find employment among strangers, if
Lady Diana had not pleaded so urgently with her aunt as to secure him a
somewhat insignificant post in her ladyship's establishment.
'If ever I have a house, of my own, you shall have a better place in it,
Steadman,' said Lady Diana.
She kept her word, and on her marriage with Lord Maulevrier, which
happened about eighteen months afterwards, Steadman passed into that
nobleman's service. He was a member of her ladyship's bodyguard, and his
employment seemed to consist chiefly in poking fires, cutting the leaves
of books and newspapers, superintending the footman's attendance upon
her ladyship's household pets, and conveying her sentiments to the other
servants. He was in a manner Lady Maulevrier's mouthpiece, and although
treated with a respect that verged upon awe, he was not a favourite with
And now the house in Mayfair was given over to the charge of caretakers.
All the other servants had been despatched by coach to her ladyship's
favourite retreat in Westmoreland, within a few miles of the Laureate's
home at Rydal Mount, and James Steadman was charged with the whole
responsibility of her ladyship's travelling arrangements.
Penelope had come to Southampton to wait for Ulysses, whose ship had
been due for more than a week, and whose white sails might be expected
above the horizon at any moment. James Steadman spent a good deal of his
time waiting about at the docks for the earliest news of Greene's ship,
the _Hypermnestra_; while Lady Maulevrier waited patiently in her
sitting-room at the Dolphin, whose three long French windows commanded a
full view of the High Street, with all those various distractions
afforded by the chief thoroughfare of a provincial town. Her ladyship
was provided with a large box of books, from Ebers' in Bond Street, a
basket of fancy work, and her favourite Blenheim spaniel, Lalla Rookh;
but even these sources of amusement did not prevent the involuntary
expression of weariness in occasional yawns, and frequent pacings up and
down the room, where the formal hotel furniture had a comfortless and
Fellside, her ladyship's place in Westmoreland, was the pleasure house
which, among all her possessions, she most valued; but it had hitherto
been reserved for summer occupation, or for perhaps two or three weeks
at Easter, when the spring was exceptionally fine. The sudden
determination to spend the coming winter in the house near Grasmere was
considered a curious freak of Lady Maulevrier's, and she was constrained
to explain her motives to her friends.
'His lordship is out of health,' she said, 'and wants perfect rest and
retirement. Now, Fellside is the only place we have in which he is
likely to get perfect rest. Anywhere else we should have to entertain.
Fellside is out of the world. There is no one to be entertained.'
'Except your neighbour, Wordsworth. I suppose you see him sometimes?'
'Dear simple-minded old soul, he gives nobody any trouble,' said her
'But is not Westmoreland very cold in winter?' asked her friend.
Lady Maulevrier smiled benignly, as at an inoffensive ignorance.
'So sheltered,' she murmured. 'We are at the base of the Fell. Loughrigg
rises up like a cyclopean wall between us and the wind.'
'But when the wind is in the either direction?'
'We have Nabb Scar. You do not know how we are girdled and defended by
'Very pleasant,' agreed the friend; 'but for my own part I would rather
winter in the south.'
Those terrible rumours which had first come upon the world of London
last June, had been growing darker and more defined ever since, but
still Lady Maulevrier made believe to ignore them; and she acted her
part of unconsciousness with such consummate skill that nobody in her
circle could be sure where the acting began and where the ignorance left
off. The astute Lord Denyer declared that she was a wonderful woman, and
knew more about the real state of the case than anybody else.
Meanwhile it was said by those who were supposed to be well-informed
that a mass of evidence was accumulating against Lord Maulevrier. The
India House, it was rumoured, was busy with the secret investigation of
his case, prior to that public inquiry which was to come on during the
next session. His private fortune would be made answerable for his
misdemeanours--his life, said the alarmists, might pay the penalty of
his treason. On all sides it was agreed that the case against Lord
Maulevrier was black as Erebus; and still Lady Maulevrier looked society
in the face with an unshaken courage, and was ready with smiles and
gracious words for all comers.
But now came a harder trial, which was to receive the man who had
disgraced her, lowered her pride to the dust, degraded the name she
bore. She had married him, not loving him--nay, plucking another love
out of her heart in order that she might give herself to him. She had
married him for position and fortune; and now by his follies, by his
extravagance, and by that greed of gold which is inevitable in the
spendthrift and profligate, he had gone near to cheat her out of both
name and fortune. Yet she so commanded herself as to receive him with a
friendly air when he arrived at the Dolphin, on a dull grey autumn
afternoon, after she had waited for him nearly a fortnight.
James Steadman ushered in his lordship, a frail attenuated looking
figure, of middle height, wrapped in a furred cloak, yet shivering, a
pale sickly face, light auburn whiskers, light blue eyes, full and
large, but with no intellectual power in them. Lady Maulevrier was
sitting by the fire, in a melancholy attitude, with the Blenheim spaniel
on her lap. Her son was at Hastings with his nurses. She had nothing
nearer and dearer than the spaniel.
She rose and went over to her husband, and let him kiss her. It would
have been too much to say that she kissed him; but she submitted her
lips unresistingly to his, and then they sat down on opposite sides of
'A wretched afternoon,' said his lordship, shivering, and drawing his
chair closer to the fire. Steadman had taken away his fur-lined cloak.
'I had really underrated the disagreeableness of the English climate. It
'To-day is not a fair sample,' answered her ladyship, trying to be
cheerful; 'we have had some pleasant autumn days.'
'I detest autumn!' exclaimed Lord Maulevrier. 'a season of dead leaves,
damp, and dreariness. I should like to get away to Montpellier or Nice
as soon as we can.'
Her ladyship gave him a scathing look, half-scornful, half-incredulous.
'You surely would not dream of leaving the country,' she said, 'under
present circumstances. So long as you are here to answer all charges no
one will interfere with your liberty; but if you were to cross the
'My slanderers might insinuate that I was running away,' interrupted
Maulevrier, 'although the very fact of my return ought to prove to every
one that I am able to meet and face this cabal.'
'Is it a cabal?' asked her ladyship, looking at him with a gaze that
searched his soul. 'Can you meet their charges? Can you live down this
hideous accusation, and hold up your head as a man of honour?'
The sensualist's blue eyes nervously shunned that look of earnest
interrogation. His lips answered the wife's spoken question with a lie,
a lie made manifest by the expression of his countenance.
'I am not afraid,' he said.
His wife answered not a word. She was assured that the charges were
true, and that the battered rake who shivered over the fire had neither
courage nor ability to face his accusers. She saw the whole fabric of
her life in ruins, her son the penniless successor to a tarnished name.
There was silence for some minutes. Lady Maulevrier sat with lowered
eyelids looking at the fire, deep in painful thought. Two perpendicular
wrinkles upon her broad white forehead--so calm, so unclouded in
society--told of gnawing cares. Then she stole a look at her husband,
as he reclined in his arm-chair, his head lying back against the
cushions in listless repose, his eyes looking vacantly at the window,
whence he could see only the rain-blurred fronts of opposite houses,
blank, dull windows, grey slated roofs, against a leaden sky.
He had been a handsome man, and he was handsome still, albeit premature
decay, the result of an evil life, was distinctly marked in his faded
face. The dull, yellow tint of the complexion, the tarnished dimness of
the large blue eyes, the discontented droop of the lips, the languor of
the attitude, the pallid transparency of the wasted hands, all told of a
life worn threadbare, energies exhausted, chances thrown away, a mind
abandoned to despair.
'You look very ill,' said his wife, after that long blank interval,
which marked so unnatural an apathy between husband and wife meeting
after so long a severance.
'I am very ill. I have been worried to death--surrounded by rogues and
liars--the victim of a most infernal conspiracy.' He spoke hurriedly,
growing whiter and more tremulous as he went on.
'Don't talk about it. You agitate yourself to no purpose,' said Lady
Maulevrier, with a tranquillity which seemed heartless yet which might
be the result of suppressed feeling. 'If you are to face this scandal
firmly and boldly next January, you must try to recover physical
strength in the meanwhile. Mental energy may come with better health.'
'I shall never be any better,' said Lord Maulevrier, testily; 'that
infernal climate has shattered my constitution.'
'Two or three months of perfect rest and good nursing will make a new
man of you. I have arranged that we shall go straight from here to
Fellside. No one can plague you there with that disguised impertinence
called sympathy. You can give all your thoughts to the ordeal before
you, and be ready to meet your accusers. Fortunately, you have no Burke
'Fellside? You think of going to Fellside?'
'Yes. You know how fond I am of that place. I little thought when you
settled it upon me--a cottage in Westmoreland with fifty acres of garden
and meadow--so utterly insignificant--that I should ever like it better
than any of your places.'
'A charming retreat in summer; but we have never wintered there? What
put it into your head to go there at such a season as this? Why, I
daresay the snow is on the tops of the hills already.'
'It is the only place I know where you will not be watched and talked
about,' replied Lady Maulevrier. 'You will be out of the eye of the
world. I should think that consideration would weigh more with you than
two or three degrees of the thermometer.'
'I detest cold,' said the Earl, 'and in my weak health----'
'We will take care of you,' answered her ladyship; and in the discussion
which followed she bore herself so firmly that her husband was fain to
How could a disgraced and ruined man, broken in health and spirits,
contest the mere details of life with a high-spirited woman ten years
The Earl wanted to go to London, and remain there at least a week, but
this her ladyship strenuously opposed. He must see his lawyer, he urged;
there were steps to be taken which could be taken only under legal
advice--counsel to be retained. If this lying invention of Satan were
really destined to take the form of a public trial, he must be prepared
to fight his foes on their own ground.
'You can make all your preparations at Fellside,' answered his wife,
resolutely. 'I have seen Messrs. Rigby and Rider, and your own
particular ally, Rigby, will go to you at Fellside whenever you want
'That is not like my being on the spot,' said his lordship, nervously,
evidently much disconcerted by her ladyship's firmness, but too feeble
in mind and body for a prolonged contest.
'I ought to be on the spot. I am not without influence; I have friends,
men in power.'
'Surely you are not going to appeal to friendship in order to vindicate
your honour. These charges are true or false. If they are false your own
manhood, your own rectitude, can face them and trample upon them,
unaided by back-stairs influence. If they are true, no one can help
'I think you, at least, ought to know that they are as false as hell,'
retorted the Earl, with an attempt to maintain his dignity.
'I have acted as if I so believed,' replied his wife. 'I have lived as
if there were no such slanders in the air. I have steadily ignored every
report, every insinuation--have held my head as high as if I knew you
'I expected as much from you,' answered the Earl, coolly. 'If I had not
known you were a woman of sense I should not have married you.'
This was his utmost expression of gratitude. His next remarks had
reference solely to his own comfort. Where were his rooms? at what hour
were they to dine? And hereupon he rang for his valet, a German Swiss,
and a servant out of a thousand.
ON THE WRONG ROAD.
Lord and Lady Maulevrier left Southampton next morning, posting. They
took two servants in the rumble, Steadman and the footman. Steadman was
to valet his lordship, the footman to be useful in all emergencies of
the journey. The maid and the valet were to travel by heavy coach, with
the luggage--her ladyship dispensing with all personal attendance during
The first day took them to Rugby, whither they travelled across country
by Wallingford and Oxford. The second day took them to Lichfield. Lord
Maulevrier was out of health and feeble, and grumbled a good deal about
the fatigue of the journey, the badness of the weather, which was dull
and cold, east winds all day, and a light frost morning and night. As
they progressed northward the sky looked grayer, the air became more
biting. His lordship insisted upon the stages being shortened. He lay in
bed at his hotel till noon, and was seldom ready to start till two
o'clock. He could see no reason for haste; the winter would be long
enough in all conscience at Fellside. He complained of mysterious aches
and pains, described himself in the presence of hotel-keepers and
headwaiters as a mass of maladies. He was nervous, irritable, intensely
disagreeable. Lady Maulevrier bore his humours with unwavering patience,
and won golden opinions from all sorts of people by her devotion to a
husband whose blighted name was the common talk of England. Everybody,
even in distant provincial towns, had heard of the scandal against the
Governor of Madras; and everybody looked at the sallow, faded
Anglo-Indian with morbid curiosity. His lordship, sensitive on all
points touching his own ease and comfort, was keenly conscious of this
The journey, protracted by Lord Maulevrier's languor and ill-health,
dragged its slow length along for nearly a fortnight; until it seemed to
Lady Maulevrier as if they had been travelling upon those dismal, flat,
unpicturesque roads for months. Each day was so horribly like yesterday.
The same hedgerows and flat fields, and passing glimpse of river or
canal. The same absence of all beauty in the landscape--the same formal
hotel rooms, and smirking landladies--and so on till they came to
Lancaster, after which the country became more interesting--hills arose
in the background. Even the smoky manufacturing towns through which
they passed without stopping, were less abominable than the level
monotony of the Midland counties.
But now as they drew nearer the hills the weather grew colder, snow was
spoken of, and when they got into Westmoreland the mountain-peaks
gleamed whitely against a lead-coloured sky.
'You ought not to have brought me here in such weather,' complained the
Earl, shivering in his sables, as he sat in his corner of the travelling
chariot, looking discontentedly at the gloomy landscape. 'What is to
become of us if we are caught in a snowstorm?'
'We shall have no snow worth talking about before we are safely housed
at Fellside, and then we can defy the elements,' said Lady Maulevrier,
They slept that night at Oxenholme, and started next morning, under a
clean, bright sky, intending to take luncheon at Windermere, and to be
at home by nightfall.
But by the time they got to Windermere the sky had changed to a dark
grey, and the people at the hotel prophesied a heavy fall before night,
and urged the Earl and Countess to go no further that day. The latter
part of the road to Fellside was rough and hilly. If there should be a
snowstorm the horses would never be able to drag the carriage up the
steepest bit of the way. Here, however, Lord Maulevrier's obstinacy came
into play. He would not endure another night at an hotel so near his own
house. He was sick to death of travelling, and wanted to be at rest
among comfortable surroundings.
'It was murder to bring me here,' he said to his wife. 'If I had gone to
Hastings I should have been a new man by this time. As it is I am a
great deal worse than when I landed.'
Everyone at the hotel noticed his lordship's white and haggard looks. He
had been known there as a young man in the bloom of health and strength,
and his decay was particularly obvious to these people.
'I saw death in his face,' the landlord said, afterwards.
Every one, even her ladyship's firmness and good sense, gave way before
the invalid's impatience. At three in the afternoon they left the hotel,
with four horses, to make the remaining nineteen miles of the way in one
stage. They had not been on the road half an hour before the snow began
to fall thickly, whitening everything around them, except the lake,
which showed a dark leaden surface at the bottom of the slope along the
edge of which they were travelling. Too sullen for speech, Lord
Maulevrier sat back in his corner, with his sable cloak drawn up to his
chin, his travelling cap covering head and ears, his eyes contemplating
the whitening world with a weary anger. His wife watched the landscape
as long as she could, but the snow soon began to darken all the air,
and she could see nothing save that blank blinding fall.
Half-way to Fellside there was a point where two roads met, one leading
towards Grasmere, the other towards the village of Great Langdale, a
cluster of humble habitations in the heart of the hills. When the horses
had struggled as far as this point, the snow was six inches deep on the
road, and made a thick curtain around them as it fell. By this time the
Earl had dozed off to sleep.
He woke an hour after, let down the window, which let in a snow-laden
gust, and tried to pierce the gloom without.
'As black as Erebus!' he exclaimed, 'but we ought to be close at home by
this time. Yes, thank God, there are the lights.'
The carriage drew up a minute afterwards, and Steadman came to the door.
'Very sorry, my lord. The horses must have taken a wrong turn after we
crossed the bridge. And now the men say they can't go back to Fellside
unless we can get fresh horses; and I'm afraid there's no chance of that
'Here!' exclaimed the Earl, 'what do you mean by here? Where the devil
'Great Langdale, my lord.'
A door opened and let out a flood of light--the red light of a wood
fire, the pale flame of a candle--upon the snowy darkness, revealing the
panelled hall of a neat little rustic inn: an eight-day clock ticking in
the corner, a black and white sheep-dog coming out at his master's heels
to investigate the travellers. To the right of the door showed the light
of a window, sheltered by a red curtain, behind which the chiefs of the
village were enjoying their evening.
'Have you any post-horses?' asked the Earl, discontentedly, as the
landlord stood on the threshold, shading the candle with his hand. 'No,
sir. We don't keep post-horses.'
'Of course not. I knew as much before I asked,' said the Earl.
'We are fixed in this dismal hole for the night, I suppose. How far are
we from Fellside?'
'Seven miles,' answered the landlord. 'I beg your pardon, my lord; I
didn't know it was your lordship,' he added, hurriedly. 'We're in sore
trouble, and it makes a man daft-like; but if there's anything we can
'Is there no hope of getting on, Steadman?' asked the Earl, cutting
short these civilities.
'Not with these horses, my lord.'
'And you hear we can't get any others. Is there any farmer about here
who could lend us a pair of carriage horses?'
The landlord knew of no such person.
'Then we must stop here till to-morrow morning. What infernal fools
those post-boys must be,' protested Lord Maulevrier.
James Steadman apologised for the postilions, explaining that when they
came to the critical point of their journey, where the road branched off
to the Langdales, the snow was falling so thickly, the whole country was
so hidden in all-pervading whiteness, that even he, who knew the way so
well, could give no help to the drivers. He could only trust to the
instinct of local postilions and local horses; and instinct had proved
The travellers alighted, and were ushered into a not
uncomfortable-looking parlour; very low as to the ceiling, very
old-fashioned as to the furniture, but spotlessly clean, and enlivened
by a good fire, to which his lordship drew near, shivering and muttering
discontentedly to himself.
'We might be worse off,' said her ladyship, looking round the bright
little room, which pleased her better than many a state apartment in the
large hotels at which they had stopped.
'Hardly, unless we were out on the moor,' grumbled her husband. 'I am
sick to death of this ill-advised, unreasonable journey. I am at a loss
to imagine your motive in bringing me here. You must have had a motive.'
'I had,' answered Lady Maulevrier, with a freezing look. 'I wanted to
get you out of the way. I told you that plainly enough at Southampton.'
'I don't see why I should be hurried away and hidden,' said Lord
Maulevrier. 'I must face my accusers, sooner or later.'
'Of course. The day of reckoning must come. But in the meantime have you
no delicacy? Do you want to be pointed at everywhere?'
'All I know is that I am very ill,' answered her husband, 'and that this
wretched journey has made me twenty years older.'
'We shall be safe at home before noon to-morrow, and you can have Horton
to set you right again. You know you always believed in his skill.'
'Horton is a clever fellow enough, as country doctors go; but at
Hastings I could have had the best physicians in London to see me,'
grumbled his lordship.
The rustic maid-servant came in to lay the table, assisted by her
ladyship's footman, who looked a good deal too tall for the room.
'I shan't dine,' said the Earl. 'I am a great deal too ill and cold.
Light a fire in my room, girl, and send Steadman to me'--this to the
footman, who hastened to obey. 'You can send me up a basin of soup
presently. I shall go to bed at once.'
He left the room without another word to his wife, who sat by the hearth
staring thoughtfully at the cheery wood fire. Presently she looked up,
and saw that the man and maid were going on with their preparations for
'I do not care about dining alone,' said her ladyship. 'We lunched at
Windermere, and I have no appetite. You can clear away those things, and
bring me some tea.'
When the table furniture had been cleared, and a neat little tea-tray
set upon the white cloth, Lady Maulevrier drew her chair to the table,
and took out her pocket-book, from which she produced a letter. This she
read more than once, meditating profoundly upon its contents.
'I am very sorry he has come home,' wrote her correspondent, 'and yet if
he had stayed in India there must have been an investigation on the
spot. A public inquiry is inevitable, and the knowledge of his arrival
in the country will precipitate matters. From all I hear I much fear
that there is no chance of the result being favourable to him. You have
asked me to write the unvarnished truth, to be brutal even, remember.
His delinquencies are painfully notorious, and I apprehend that the last
sixpence he owns will be answerable. His landed estate I am told can
also be confiscated, in the event of an impeachment at the bar of the
House of Lords, as in the Warren Hastings case. But as yet nobody seems
clear as to the form which the investigation will take. In reply to your
inquiry as to what would have happened if his lordship had died on the
passage home, I believe I am justified in saying the scandal would have
been allowed to die with him. He has contrived to provoke powerful
animosities both in the Cabinet and at the India House, and there is, I
fear, an intention to pursue the inquiry to the bitter end.'
Assurances of the writer's sympathy followed these harsh truths. But to
this polite commonplace her ladyship paid no attention. Her mind was
intent on hard facts, the dismal probabilities of the near future.
'If he had died upon the passage home!' she repeated. 'Would to God that
he had so died, and that my son's name and fortune could be saved.'
The innocent child who had never given her an hour's care; the one
creature she loved with all the strength of her proud nature--his future
was to be blighted by his father's misdoings-overshadowed by shame and
dishonour in the very dawn of life. It was a wicked wish--an unnatural
wish to find room in a woman's breast; but the wish was there. Would to
God he had died before the ship touched an English port.
But he was living, and would have to face his accusers--and she, his
wife, must give him all the help she could.
She sat long by the waning fire. She took nothing but a cup of tea,
although the landlady had sent in substantial accompaniments to the
tea-tray in the shape of broiled ham, new-laid eggs, and hot cakes,
arguing that a traveller on such a night must be hungry, albeit
disinclined for a ceremonious dinner. She had been sitting for nearly
an hour in almost the same attitude, when there came a knock at the
door, and, on being bidden to enter, the landlady came in, with some
logs in her apron, under pretence of replenishing the fire.
'I was afraid your fire must be getting low, and that you'd be amost
starved, my lady,' she said, as she put on the logs, and swept up the
ashes on the hearth. 'Such a dreadful night. So early in the year, too.
I'm thinking we shall have a gay hard winter.'
'That does not always follow,' said Lady Maulevrier. 'Has Steadman come
'Yes, my lady. He told me to tell your ladyship that his lordship is
pretty comfortable, and hopes to pass a good night.'
'I am glad to hear it. You can give me another room, I suppose. It would
be better for his lordship not to be disturbed, as he is very much out
'There is another room, my lady, but it's very small.'
'I don't mind how small, if it is clean and airy.'
'Yes, my lady. I am thankful to say you won't find dirt or stuffiness
anywhere in this house. His lordship do look mortal badly,' added the
landlady, shaking her head dolefully; 'and I remember him such a fine
young gentleman, when he used to come down the Rothay with the otter
hounds, running along the bank--joomping in and out of the beck--up to
his knees in the water--and now to see him, so white and mashiated, and
broken-down like, in the very prime of life, all along of living out in
a hot country, among blackamoors, which is used to it--poor, ignorant
creatures--and never knew no better. It must be a hard trial for you, my
'It is a hard trial.'
'Ah! we all have our trials, rich and poor,' sighed the woman, who
desired nothing better than to be allowed to unbosom her woes to the
grand looking lady in the fur-bordered cloth pelisse, with beautiful
dark hair piled up in clustering masses above a broad white forehead,
and slender white hands on which diamonds flashed and glittered in the
firelight, an unaccustomed figure by that rustic hearth.
'We all have our trials--high and low.'
'That reminds me,' said Lady Maulevrier, looking up at her, 'your
husband said you were in trouble. What did that mean?'
'Sickness in the house, my lady. A brother of mine that went to America
to make his fortune, and seemed to be doing so well for the first five
or six years, and wrote home such beautiful letters, and then left off
writing all at once, and we made sure as he was dead, and never got a
word from him for ten years, and just three weeks ago he drops in upon
us as we was sitting over our tea between the lights, looking as white
as a ghost. I gave a shriek when I saw him, for I was regular scared
out of my senses. "Robert's ghost!" I cried; but it was Robert himself,
come home to us to die. And he's lying upstairs now, with so little life
in him that I expect every breath to be his last.'
'What is his complaint?'
'Apathy, my lady. Dear, dear, that's not it. I never do remember the
doctor's foreign names.'
'Yes, my lady, that was it. Happen such crack-jaw words come easy to a
scholar like your ladyship.'
'Does the doctor give no hope?'
'Well, no, my lady. He don't go so far as to say there's no hope, though
Robert has been badly so long. It all depends, he says, upon the
rallying power of the constitution. The lungs are not gone, and the
heart is not diseased. If there's rallying power, Robert will come
round, and if there isn't he'll sink. But the doctor says nature will
have to make an effort. But I have my own idea about the case,' added
the landlady, with a sigh.
'What is your idea?'
'That our Robert was marked for death when he came into this house, and
that he meant what he said when he spoke of coming home to die. Things
had gone against him for the last ten years in America. He married and
took his wife out to a farm in the Bush, and thought to make a good
thing out of farming with the bit of brass he'd saved at heeam. But
America isn't Gert Langdale, you see, my lady, and his knowledge stood
him in no stead in the Bush; and first he lost his money, and he fashed
himself terrible about that, and then he lost a child or two, and then
he lost his wife, and he came back to us a broken-hearted man, with no
wish to live. The doctor may call it atrophy, but I will call it what
the Scripture calls it, a broken and a wounded spirit.'
'Who is your doctor?'
'Mr. Evans, of Ambleside.'
'That little half-blind old man!' exclaimed her ladyship. 'Surely you
have no confidence in him?'
'Not much, my lady. But I don't believe all the doctors in London could
do anything for Robert. Good nursing will bring him round if anything
can; and he gets that, I can assure your ladyship. He's my only brother,
the only kith and kin that's left to me, and he and I were gay fond of
each other when he was young. You may be sure I don't spare any trouble,
and my good man thinks the best of his larder or his celler hardly good
enough for Robert.'
'I am sure you are kind good people,' replied her ladyship gently; 'but
I should have thought Mr. Horton, of Grasmere, could have done more than
old Evans. However, you know best. I hope his lordship is not going to
add to your cares by being laid up here, but he looked very ill this
'He did, my lady, mortal bad.'
'However, we must hope for the best. Steadman is a splendid servant in
illness. He nursed my father for years. Will you tell him to come to me,
if you please? I want to hear what he thinks of his lordship, and to
discuss the chances of our getting home early to-morrow.'
The landlady retired, and summoned Mr. Steadman, who was enjoying his
modest glass of grog in front of the kitchen fire. He had taught himself
to dispense with the consolations of tobacco, lest he should at any time
make himself obnoxious to her ladyship.
Steadman was closeted with Lady Maulevrier for the next half-hour,
during which his lordship's condition was gravely discussed. When he
left the sitting-room he told the landlord to be sure and feed the
post-horses well, and make them comfortable for the night, so that they
might be ready for the drive to Fellside early next morning.
'Do you think his lordship will be well enough to travel?' asked the
'He has made up his mind to get home--ill or well,' answered Steadman.
'He has wasted about a week by his dawdling ways on the road; and now
he's in a fever to get to Fellside.'
THE LAST STAGE.
The post-horses--which had been well fed, but accommodated somewhat
poorly in stable and barn--were quite ready to go on next morning; but
Lord Maulevrier was not able to leave his room, where her ladyship
remained in close attendance upon him. The hills and valleys were white
with snow, but there was none falling, and Mr. Evans, the elderly
surgeon from Ambleside, rode over to Great Langdale on his elderly cob
to look at Robert Haswell, and was called in to see Lord Maulevrier. Her
ladyship had spoken lightly of his skill on the previous evening, but
any doctor is better than none, so this feeble little personage was
allowed to feel his lordship's pulse, and look at his lordship's tongue.
His opinion, never too decidedly given, was a little more hazy than
usual on this occasion, perhaps because of a certain awfulness, to
unaccustomed eyes, in Lady Maulevrier's proud bearing. He said that his
lordship was low, very low, and that the pulse was more irregular than
he liked, but he committed himself no further than this, and went away,
promising to send such pills and potions as were appropriate to the
A boy rode the same pony over to Langdale later in the afternoon with
the promised medicines.
Throughout the short winter day, which seemed terribly long in the
stillness and solitude of Great Langdale, Lady Maulevrier kept watch in
the sick-room, Steadman going in and out in constant attendance upon his
master--save for one half-hour only, which her ladyship passed in the
parlour below, in conversation with the landlady, a very serious
conversation, as indicated by Mrs. Smithson's grave and somewhat
troubled looks when she left her ladyship; but a good deal of her
trouble may have been caused by her anxiety about her brother, who was
pronounced by the doctor to be 'much the same.'
At eleven o'clock that night a mounted messenger was sent off to
Ambleside in hot haste to fetch Mr. Evans, who came to the inn to find
Lady Maulevrier kneeling beside her husband's bed, while Steadman stood
with a troubled countenance at a respectful distance.
The room was dimly lighted by a pair of candles burning on a table near
the window, and at some distance from the old four-post bedstead,
shaded by dark moreen curtains. The surgeon looked round the room, and
then fumbled in his pockets for his spectacles, without the aid of which
the outside world presented itself to him under a blurred and uncertain
He put on his spectacles, and moved towards the bed; but the first
glance in that direction showed him what had happened. The outline of
the rigid figure under the coverlet looked like a sculptured effigy upon
a tomb. A sheet was drawn over the face of death.
'You are too late to be of any use, Mr. Evans,' murmured Steadman,
laying his hand upon the doctor's sleeve and drawing him away towards
They went softly on to the landing, off which opened the door of that
other sick-room where the landlady's brother was lying.
'When did this happen?'
'A quarter of an hour after the messenger rode off to fetch you,'
answered Steadman. 'His lordship lay all the afternoon in a heavy sleep,
and we thought he was going on well; but after dark there was a
difficulty in his breathing which alarmed her ladyship, and she insisted
upon you being sent for. The messenger had hardly been gone a quarter of
an hour when his lordship woke suddenly, muttured to himself in a
curious way, gave just one long drawn sigh, and--and all was over. It
was a terrible shock for her ladyship.'
'Indeed it must have been,' murmured the village doctor. 'It is a great
surprise to me. I knew Lord Maulevrier was low, very low, the pulse
feeble and intermittent; but I had no fear of anything of this kind. It
is very sudden.'
'Yes, it is awfully sudden,' said Steadman, and then he murmured in the
doctor's ear, 'You will give the necessary certificate, I hope, with as
little trouble to her ladyship as possible. This is a dreadful blow, and
'She shall not be troubled. The body will be removed to-morrow, I
'Yes. He must be buried from his own house. I sent a second messenger to
Ambleside for the undertaker. He will be here very soon, no doubt, and
if the shell is ready by noon to-morrow, the body can be removed then. I
have arranged to get her ladyship away to-night.'
'So late? After midnight?'
'Why not? She cannot stay in this small house--so near the dead. There
is a moon, and there is no snow falling, and we are within seven miles
The doctor had nothing further to say against the arrangement, although
such a drive seemed to him a somewhat wild and reckless proceeding. Mr.
Steadman's grave, self-possessed manner answered all doubts. Mr. Evans
filled in the certificate for the undertaker, drank a glass of hot
brandy and water, and remounted his nag, in nowise relishing his
midnight ride, but consoling himself with the reflection that he would
be handsomely paid for his trouble.
An hour later Lady Maulevrier's travelling carriage stood ready in the
stable yard, in the deep shadow of wall and gables. It was at Steadman's
order that the carriage waited for her ladyship at an obscure side door,
rather than in front of the inn. An east wind was blowing keenly along
the mountain road, and the careful Steadman was anxious his mistress
should not be exposed to that chilly blast.
There was some delay, and the four horses jingled their bits
impatiently, and then the door of the inn opened, a feeble light gleamed
in the narrow passage within, Steadman stood ready to assist her
ladyship, there was a bustle, a confusion of dark figures on the
threshold, a huddled mass of cloaks and fur wraps was lifted into the
carriage, the door was clapped to, the horses went clattering out of the
yard, turned sharply into the snowy road, and started at a swinging pace
towards the dark sullen bulk of Loughrigg Fell.
The moon was shining upon Elterwater in the valley yonder--the mountain
ridges, the deep gorges below those sullen heights, looked back where
the shadow of night enfolded them, but all along the snow-white road the
silver light shone full and clear, and the mountain way looked like a
path through fairyland.
FORTY YEARS AFTER.
'What a horrid day!' said Lady Mary, throwing down her book with a yawn,
and looking out of the deep bay window into a world of mountain and lake
which was clouded over by a dense veil of rain and dull grey mist; such
rain as one sees only in a lake district, a curtain of gloom which shuts
off sky and distance, and narrows the world to one solitary dwelling,
suspended amidst cloud and water, like another ark in a new deluge.
Rain--such rain as makes out-of-door exercise impossible--was always an
affliction to Lady Mary Haselden. Her delight was in open air and
sunshine--fishing in the lake and rivers--sitting in some sheltered
hollow of the hills more fitting for an eagle's nest than for the
occupation of a young lady, trying to paint those ever-varying,
unpaintable mountain peaks, which change their hues with every change of
the sky--swimming, riding, roving far and wide over hill and
heather--pleasures all more or less masculine in their nature, and which
were a subject of regret with Lady Maulevrier.
Lady Lesbia was of a different temper. She loved ease and elegance, the
gracious luxuries of life. She loved art and music, but not to labour
hard at either. She played and sang a little--excellently within that
narrow compass which she had allotted to herself--played Mendelssohn's
'Lieder' with finished touch and faultless phrasing, sang Heine's
ballads with consummate expression. She painted not at all. Why should
anyone draw or paint indifferently, she asked, when Providence has
furnished the world with so many great painters in the past and present?
She could not understand Mary's ardent desire to do the thing
herself,--to be able with her own pencil and her own brush to reproduce
the lakes and valleys, the wild brown hills she loved so passionately.
Lesbia did not care two straws for the lovely lake district amidst which
she had been reared,--every pike and force, every beck and gill whereof
was distinctly dear to her younger sister. She thought it a very hard
thing to have spent so much of her life at Fellside, a trial that would
have hardly been endurable if it were not for grandmother. Grandmother
and Lesbia adored each other. Lesbia was the one person for whom Lady
Maulevrier's stateliness was subjugated by perfect love. To all the rest
of the world the Countess was marble, but to Lesbia she was wax. Lesbia
could mould her as she pleased; but happily Lesbia was not the kind of
young person to take advantage of this privilege; she was thoroughly
ductile or docile, and had no desire, at present, which ran counter to
Lesbia was a beauty. In her nineteenth year she was a curious
reproduction in face and figure, expression and carriage, of that Lady
Diana Angersthorpe who five and forty years ago fluttered the dove-cots
of St. James's and Mayfair by her brilliant beauty and her keen
intelligence. There in the panelled drawing-room at Fellside hung
Harlow's portrait of Lady Diana in her zenith, in a short-waisted, white
satin frock, with large puffed gauze sleeves, through which the perfect
arm showed dimly. Standing under that picture Lady Lesbia looked as if
she had stepped out of the canvas. She was to be painted by Millais next
year. Lady Maulevrier said, when she had been introduced, and society
was beginning to talk about her: for Lady Maulevrier made up her mind
five or six years ago that Lesbia should be the reigning beauty of her
season. To this end she had educated and trained her, furnishing her
with all those graces best calculated to please and astonish society.
She was too clever a woman not to discover Lesbia's shallowness and lack
of all great gifts, save that one peerless dower of perfect beauty. She
knew exactly what Lesbia could be trained to do; and to this end Lesbia
had been educated; and to this end Lady Maulevrier brought down to
Fellside the most accomplished of Hanoverian governesses, who had
learned French in Paris, and had toiled in the educational mill with
profit to herself and her pupils for a quarter of a century. To this
lady the Countess entrusted the education of her granddaughters' minds,
while for their physical training she provided another teacher in the
person of a clever little Parisian dancing mistress, who had set up at
the West-End of London as a teacher of dancing and calisthenics, and had
utterly failed to find pupils enough to pay her rent and keep her modest
_pot-au-feu_ going. Mademoiselle Thiebart was very glad to exchange the
uncertainties of a first floor in North Audley Street for the comfort
and security of Fellside Manor, with a salary of one hundred and fifty
pounds a year.
Both Fraeulein and Mademoiselle had been quick to discover that Lady
Lesbia was the apple of her grandmother's eye, while Lady Mary was
comparatively an outsider.
So it came about that Mary's education was in somewise a mere picking-up
of the crumbs which fell from Lesbia's table, and that she was allowed
in a general way to run wild. She was much quicker at any intellectual
exercise than Lesbia. She learned the lessons that were given her at
railroad speed, and rattled off her exercises with a slap-dash
penmanship which horrified the neat and niggling Fraeulein, and then
rushed off to the lake or mountain, and by this means grew browner and
browner, and more indelibly freckled day by day, thus widening the gulf
between herself and her beauty sister.
But it is not to be supposed that because Lesbia was beautiful, Mary was
plain. This is very far from the truth. Mary had splendid hazel eyes,
with a dancing light in them when she smiled, ruddy auburn hair, white
teeth, a deeply-dimpled chin, and a vivacity and archness of expression,
which served only in her present state of tutelage for the subjugation
of old women and shepherd boys. Mary had been taught to believe that her
chances of future promotion were of the smallest; that nobody would ever
talk of her, or think of her by-and-by when she in her turn would make
her appearance in London society, and that it would be a very happy
thing for her if she were so fortunate as to attract the attention of a
fashionable physician, a Canon of Westminster or St. Paul's, or a
barrister in good practice.
Mary turned up her pert little nose at this humdrum lot.
'I would much rather spend all my life among these dear hills than marry
a nobody in London,' she said, fearless of that grand old lady at whose
frown so many people shivered. 'If you don't think people will like me
and admire me--a little--you had better save yourself the trouble of
taking me to London. I don't want to play second fiddle to my sister.'
'You are a very impertinent person, and deserve to be taken at your
word,' replied my lady, scowling at her; 'but I have no doubt before you
are twenty you will tell another story.'
'Oh!' said Mary, now just turned seventeen, 'then I am not to come out
till I am twenty.'
'That will be soon enough,' answered the Countess. 'It will take you as
long to get rid of those odious freckles. And no doubt by that time
Lesbia will have made a brilliant marriage.'
And now on this rainy July morning these two girls, neither of whom had
any serious employment for her life, or any serious purpose in living,
wasted the hours, each in her own fashion.
Lesbia reclined upon a cushioned seat in the deep embrasure of a Tudor
window, her _pose_ perfection--it was one of many such attitudes which
Mademoiselle had taught her, and which by assiduous training had become
a second nature. Poor Mademoiselle, having finished her mission and
taught Lesbia all she could teach, had now departed to a new and far
less luxurious situation in a finishing school at Passy; but Fraeulein
Mueller was still retained, as watch-dog and duenna.
Lesbia's pale blue morning gown harmonised exquisitely with a complexion
of lilies and roses, violet eyes, and golden-brown hair. Her features
were distinguished by that perfect chiselling which gave such a haughty
grace to her grandmother's countenance, even at sixty-seven years of
age--a loveliness which, like the sculptured marble it resembles, is
unalterable by time. Lesbia was reading Keats. It was her habit to read
the poets, carefully and deliberately, taking up one at a time, and duly
laying a volume aside when she found herself mistress of its contents.
She had no passion for poetry, but it was an elegant leisurely kind of
reading which suited her languid temperament. Moreover, her grandmother
had told her that an easy familiarity with the great poets is of all
knowledge that which best qualifies a woman to shine in conversation,
without offending the superior sex by any assumption of scholarship.
Mary was a very different class of reader; capricious, omniverous,
tearing out the hearts of books, roaming from flower to flower in the
fields of literature, loving old and new, romance and reality, novels,
travels, plays, poetry, and never dwelling long on any one theme.
Perhaps if Mary had lived in the bosom of a particularly sympathetic
family she might have been reckoned almost a genius, so much of poetry
and originality was there in her free unconventional character; but
hitherto it had been Mary's mission in life to be snubbed, whereby she
had acquired a very poor opinion of her own talents.
'Oh,' she cried with a desperate yawn, while Lesbia smiled her languid
smile over Endymion, 'how I wished something would happen--anything to
stir us out of this statuesque, sleeping-beauty state of being. I verily
believe the spiders are all asleep in the ivy, and the mice behind the
wainscot, and the horses in the stable.'
'What could happen?' asked Lesbia, with a gentle elevation of pencilled
brows. 'Are not these lovely lines--
"And coverlids gold-tinted like the peach,
Or ripe October's faded marigolds,
Fell sleek about him in a thousand folds."
Faded marigolds! Is not that intensely sweet?'
'Very well for your sleepy Keats, but I don't suppose you would have
noticed the passage if marigolds were not in fashion,' said Mary, with a
touch of scorn. 'What could happen? Why a hundred things--an earthquake,
flood, or fire. What could happen, do you say, Lesbia? Why Maulevrier
might come home unexpectedly, and charm us out of this death-in-life.'
'He would occasion a good deal of unpleasantness if he did,' answered
Lesbia, coldly. 'You know how angry he has made grandmother.'
'Because he keeps race-horses which have an unlucky knack of losing,'
said Mary, dubiously. 'I suppose if his horses won, grandmother would
'Not at all. That would make hardly any difference, except that he would
not ruin himself quite so quickly. Grandmother says that a young man
who goes on the turf is sure to be ruined sooner or later. And then
Maulevrier's habits are altogether wild and foolish. It is very hard
upon grandmother, who has such noble ambition for all of us.'
'Not for me,' answered Mary smiling. 'Her views about me are very
humble. She considers that I shall be most fortunate if a doctor or a
lawyer condescend to like me well enough to make me an offer. He might
make me the offer without liking me, for the sake of hearing himself and
his wife announced as Mr. and Lady Mary Snooks at dinner parties. That
would be too horrid! But I daresay such things have happened.'
'Don't talk nonsense, Mary,' said Lesbia, loftily. 'There is no reason
why you should not make a really good marriage, if you follow
grandmother's advice and don't affect eccentricity.'
'I don't affect eccentricity, but I'm afraid I really am eccentric,'
murmured Mary, meekly, 'for I like so many things I ought not to like,
and detest so many things which I ought to admire.'
'I daresay you will have tamed down a little before you are presented,'
said Lesbia, carelessly.
She could not even affect a profound interest in anyone but herself. She
had a narrowness of mental vision which prevented her looking beyond the
limited circle of her own pleasures, her own desires, her own dreams and
hopes. She was one of those strictly correct young women who was not
likely to do much harm in the world but who was just as unlikely to do
any good. Mary sighed, and went back to her book, a bulky volume of
travels, and tried to lose herself in the sandy wastes of Africa, and to
be deeply interested in the sources of the Congo, not, in her heart of
hearts, caring a straw whether that far-away river comes from the
mountains of the moon, or from the moon itself. To-day she could not pin
her mind to pages which might have interested her at another time. Her
thoughts were with Lord Maulevrier, that fondly-loved only brother, just
seven years her senior, who had taken to race-horses and bad ways, and
seemed to be trying his hardest to dissipate the splendid fortune which
his grandmother, the dowager Countess, had nursed so judiciously during
his long minority. Maulevrier and Mary had always been what the young
man called 'no end of chums.'
He called her his own brown-eyed Molly, much to the annoyance of Lady
Maulevrier and Lesbia; and Mary's life was all gladness when Maulevrier
was at Fellside. She devoted herself wholly to his amusements, rode and
drove with him, followed on her pony when he went otter hunting, and
very often abandoned the pony to the care of some stray mountain youth
in order to join the hunters, and go leaping from stone to stone on the
margin of the stream, and occasionally, in moments of wild excitement,
when the hounds were in full cry, splashing in and out of the water,
like a naiad in a neat little hunting-habit.
Mary looked after Maulevrier's stable when he was away, and had supreme
command of a kennel of fox-terriers which cost her brother more money
than the Countess would have cared to know; for in the wide area of Lady
Maulevrier's ambition there was no room for two hundred guinea
fox-terriers, were they never so perfect.
Altogether Mary's life was a different life when her brother was at
home; and in his absence the best part of her days were spent in
thinking about him and fulfilling the duties of her position as his
representative in stable and kennel, and among certain rustics in the
district, chiefly of the sporting type, who were Maulevrier's chosen
allies or _proteges_.
Never, perhaps, had two girls of patrician lineage lived a more secluded
life than Lady Maulevrier's granddaughters. They had known no pleasures
beyond the narrow sphere of home and home friends. They had never
travelled--they had seen hardly anything of the outside world. They had
never been to London or Paris, or to any city larger than York; and
their visits to that centre of dissipation had been of the briefest, a
mere flash of mild gaiety, a horticultural show or an oratorio, and back
by express train, closely guarded by governess and footmen, to Fellside.
In the autumn, when the leaves were falling in the wooded grounds of
Fellside, the young ladies were sent, still under guardianship of
governesses and footmen, to some quiet seaside resort between Alnwick
and Edinburgh, where Mary lived the wild free life she loved, roaming
about the beach, boating, shrimping, seaweed-gathering, making hard work
for the governesses and footmen who had been sent in charge of her.
Lady Maulevrier never accompanied her granddaughters on these occasions.
She was a vigorous old woman, straight as a dart, slim as a girl, active
in her degree as any young athlete among those hills, and she declared
that she never felt the need of change of air. The sodden shrubberies,
the falling leaves, did her no harm. Never within the memory of this
generation had she left Fellside. Her love of this mountain retreat was
a kind of _culte_. She had come here broken spirited, perhaps broken
hearted, bringing her dead husband from the little inn at Great Langdale
forty years ago, and she had hardly left the spot since that day.
In those days Fellside House was a very different kind of dwelling from
the gracious modern Tudor mansion which now crowned and beautified the
hill-side above Grasmere Lake. It was then an old rambling stone house,
with queer little rooms and inconvenient passages, low ceilings,
thatched gables, and all manner of strange nooks and corners. Lady
Maulevrier was of too strictly conservative a temper to think of
pulling down an old house which had been in her husband's family for
generations. She left the original cottage undisturbed, and built her
new house at right angles with it, connecting the two with a wide
passage below and a handsome corridor above, so that access should be
perfect in the event of her requiring the accommodation of the old
quaint, low ceiled rooms for her family or her guests. During forty
years no such necessity had ever arisen; but the old house, known as the
south wing, was still left intact, the original furniture undisturbed,
although the only occupants of the building were her ladyship's faithful
old house-steward, James Steadman, and his elderly wife.
The house which Lady Maulevrier had built for herself and her
grandchildren had not been created all at once, though the nucleus
dating forty years back was a handsome building. She had added more
rooms as necessity or fancy dictated, now a library with bedrooms over
it, now a music room for Lady Lesbia and her grand piano--anon a
billiard-room, as an agreeable surprise for Maulevrier when he came home
after a tour in America. Thus the house had grown into a long low pile
of Tudor masonry--steep gables, heavily mullioned casements, grey stone
walls, curtained with the rich growth of passion-flower, magnolia,
clematis, myrtle and roses--and all those flowers which thrive and
flourish in that mild and sheltered spot.
The views from those mullioned casements were perfect. Switzerland could
give hardly any more exquisite picture than that lake shut in by hills,
grand and bold in their varied outlines, so rich in their colouring that
the eye, dazzled with beauty, forgot to calculate the actual height of
those craggy peaks and headlands, the mind forgot to despise them
because they were not so lofty as Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn. The
velvet sward of the hill sloped steeply downward from Lady Maulevrier's
drawing-room windows to the road beside the lake, and this road was so
hidden by the wooded screen which bounded her ladyship's grounds that
the lake seemed to lie in the green heart of her gardens, a lovely,
placid lake on summer days, reflecting the emerald hue of the
surrounding hills, and looking like a smooth green meadow, which invited
the foot passenger to cross it.
The house was approached by a winding carriage drive that led up and up
and up from the road beside the lake, so screened and sheltered by
shrubberies and pine woods, that the stranger knew not whither he was
going, till he came upon an opening in the wood, and the stately Italian
garden in front of a massive stone porch, through which he entered a
spacious oak-panelled hall, and anon, descending a step or two, he found
himself in Lady Maulevrier's drawing-room, and face to face with that
divine view of the everlasting hills, the lake shining below him,
bathed in sunlight.
Or if it were the stranger's evil fate to come in wet weather, he saw
only a rain-blotted landscape--the blurred outlines of grey mountain
peaks, scowling at him from the other side of a grey pool. But if the
picture without were depressing, the picture within was always good to
look upon, for those oak-panelled or tapestried rooms, communicating by
richly-curtained doorways from drawing room to library, from library to
billiard room, were as perfect as wealth and taste could make them. Lady
Maulevrier argued that as there was but one house among all the
possessions of her race which she cared to inhabit, she had a right to
make that house beautiful, and she had spared nothing upon the
beautification of Fellside; and yet she had spent much less than would
have been squandered by any pleasure-loving dowager, restlessly roving
from Piccadilly to the Engadine, from Pontresina to Nice or Monaco,
winding up with Easter in Paris, and then back to Piccadilly. Her
ladyship's friends wondered that she could care to bury herself alive in
Westmoreland, and expatiated on the eccentricity of such a life; nay,
those who had never seen Fellside argued that Lady Maulevrier had taken
in her old age to hoarding, and that she pigged at a cottage in the Lake
district, in order to swell a fortune which young Maulevrier would set
about squandering as soon as she was in her coffin. But here they were
wrong. It was not in Lady Maulevrier's nature to lead a sordid life in
order to save money. Yet in these quiet years that were gone--starting
with that golden nucleus which her husband was supposed to have brought
home from India, obtained no one knows how, the Countess had amassed one
of the largest fortunes possessed by any dowager in the peerage. She had
it, and she held it, with a grasp that nothing but death could loosen;
nay, that all-foreseeing mind of hers might contrive to cheat grim death
itself, and to scheme a way for protecting this wealth, even when she
who had gathered and garnered it should be mouldering in her grave. The
entailed estates belonged to Maulevrier, were he never such a fool or
spendthrift; but this fortune of the dowager's was her own, to dispose
of as she pleased, and not a penny of it was likely to go to the young
Lady Maulevrier's pride and hopes were concentrated upon her
granddaughter Lesbia. She should be the inheritress of this noble
fortune--she should spread and widen the power of the Maulevrier race.
Lesbia's son should link the family name with the name of his father;
and if by any hazard of fate the present Earl should die young and
childless, the old Countess's interest should be strained to the
uttermost to obtain the title for Lesbia's offspring. Why should she not
be Countess of Maulevrier in her own right? But in order to make this
future possible the most important factor in the sum was yet to be
found in the person of a husband for Lady Lesbia--a husband worthy of
peerless beauty and exceptional wealth, a husband whose own fortune
should be so important as to make him above suspicion. That was Lady
Maulevrier's scheme--to wed wealth to wealth--to double or quadruple the
fortune she had built up in the long slow years of her widowhood, and
thus to make her granddaughter one of the greatest ladies in the land;
for it need hardly be said that the man who was to wed Lady Lesbia must
be her equal in wealth and lineage, if not her superior.
Lady Maulevrier was not a miser. She was liberal and benevolent to all
who came within the circle of her life. Wealth for its own sake she
valued not a jot. But she lived in an age in which wealth is power, and
ambition was her ruling passion. As she had been ambitious for her
husband in the days that were gone, she was now ambitious for her
granddaughter. Time had intensified the keen eagerness of her mind. She
had been disappointed, cruelly, bitterly, in the ambition of her youth.
She had been made to drink the cup of shame and humiliation. But to this
ambition of her old age she held with even greater tenacity. God help
her if she should be disappointed here!
It is not to be supposed that so astute a schemer as Lady Maulevrier had
not surveyed the marriage market in order to discover that fortunate
youth who should be deemed worthy to become the winner of Lesbia's hand.
Years ago, when Lesbia was still in the nursery, the dowager had made
herself informed of the age, weight, and colours of every likely runner
in the matrimonial stakes; or, in plainer words, had kept herself, by
her correspondence with a few intimate friends, and her close study of
the fashionable newspapers, thoroughly acquainted with the characters
and exploits, the dispositions and antecedents, of those half-dozen
elder sons, among whom she hoped to find Lesbia's lord and master. She
knew her peerage by heart, and she knew the family history of every
house recorded therein; the sins and weaknesses, the follies and losses
of bygone years; the taints, mental and physical; the lateral branches
and intermarriages; the runaway wives and unfaithful husbands; idiot
sons or scrofulous daughters. She knew everything that was to be known
about that aristocratic world into which she had been born sixty-seven
years ago; and the sum-total of her knowledge was that there was one man
whom she desired for her granddaughter's husband--one man, and one only,
and into whose hands, when earth and sky should fade from her glazing
eyes, she could be content to resign the sceptre of power.
There were no doubt half-a-dozen, or more, in the list of elder sons,
who were fairly eligible. But this young man was the Achilles in the
rank and file of chivalry, and her soul yearned to have him and no other
for her darling.
Her soul yearned to him with a tenderness which was not all on Lesbia's
account. Forty-nine years ago she had fondly loved his father--loved him
and had been fain to renounce him; for Ronald Hollister, afterwards Earl
of Hartfield, was then a younger son, and the two families had agreed
that marriage between paupers was an impudent flying in the face of
Providence, which must be put down with an iron hand. Lord Hartfield
sent his son to Turkey in the diplomatic service; and the old dowager
Lady Carrisbrook whisked her niece off to London, and kept her there,
under watch and ward, till Lord Maulevrier proposed and was accepted by
her. There should be no foolishness, no clandestine correspondence. The
iron hand crushed two young hearts, and secured a brilliant future for
the bodies which survived.
Fifteen years later Ronald's elder brother died unmarried. Ha abandoned
that career of vagrant diplomacy which had taken him all over Europe,
and as far as Washington, and re-appeared in London, the most elegant
man of his era, but thoroughly _blase_. There were rumours of an unhappy
attachment in the Faubourg Saint Germain; of a tragedy at Petersburg.
Society protested that Lord Hartfield would die a bachelor, as his
brother died before him. The Hollisters are not a marrying family, said
society. But six or seven years after his return to England Lord
Hartfield married Lady Florence Ilmington, a beauty in her first season,
and a very sweet but somewhat prudish young person. The marriage
resulted in the birth of an heir, whose appearance upon this mortal
stage was followed within a year by his father's exit. Hence the
Hartfield property, always a fine estate, had been nursed and fattened
during a long minority, and the present Lord Hartfield was reputed one
of the richest young men of his time. He was also spoken of as a
superior person, inheriting all his father's intellectual gifts, and
having the reputation of being singularly free from the vices of
profligate youth. He was neither prig nor pedant, and he was very
popular in the best society; but he was not ashamed to let it be seen
that his ambition soared higher than the fashionable world of turf and
stable, cards and pigeon matches.
Though not of the gay world, nor in it, Lady Maulevrier had contrived to
keep herself thoroughly _en rapport_ with society. Her few chosen
friends, with whom she corresponded on terms of perfect confidence, were
among the best people in London--not the circulators of club-house
canards, the pickers-up of second-hand gossip from the society papers,
but actors in the comedy of high life, arbiters of fashion and taste,
born and bred in the purple.
Last season Lord Hartfield's absence had cast a cloud over the
matrimonial horizon. He had been a traveller for more than a
year--Patagonia, Peru, the Pyramids, Japan, the North Pole--society
cared not where--the fact that he was gone was all-sufficient. Bachelors
a shade less eligible came to the front in his absence and became first
favourites. Lady Maulevrier, well informed in advance, had deferred
Lesbia's presentation till next season, when she was told Lord Hartfield
would certainly re-appear. His plans had been made for return before
Christmas; and it would seem that his scheme of life was laid down with
as much precision as if he had been a prince of the blood royal. Thus it
happened, to Lesbia's intense disgust, that her _debut_ was deferred
till the verge of her twentieth birthday. It would never do, Lady
Maulevrier told herself, for the edge to be taken off the effect which
Lesbia's beauty was to make on society during Lord Hartfield's absence.
He must be there, on the spot, to see this star rise gently and slowly
above society's horizon, and to mark how everybody bowed down and
worshipped the new light.
'I shall be an old woman before I appear in society,' said Lesbia,
petulantly; 'and I shall be like a wild woman of the woods; for I have
seen nothing, and know nothing of the civilised world.'
'You will be ever so much more attractive than the young women I hear
of, who have seen and known a great deal too much,' answered the
dowager; and as her granddaughter knew that Lady Maulevrier's word was a
law that altered not, there was no more idle repinings.
Her ladyship gave no reason for the postponement of Lesbia's
presentation. She was far too diplomatic to breathe a word of her ideas
with regard to Lord Hartfield. Anything like a matrimonial scheme would
have been revolting to Lesbia, who had grand, but not sordid views about
matrimony. She thought it her mission to appear and to conquer. A crowd
of suitors would sigh around her, like the loves and graces round that
fair Belinda whose story she had read so often; and it would be her part
to choose the most worthy. The days are gone when a girl would so much
as look at such a fribble as Sir Plume. Her virgin fancy demands the
Tennysonian ideal, the grave and knightly Arthur.
But when Lesbia thought of the most worthy, it was always of the
worthiest in her own particular sphere; and he of course would be titled
and wealthy, and altogether fitted to be her husband. He would take her
by the hand and lead her to a higher seat on the dais, and place upon
her head, or at least upon her letter-paper and the panels of her
carriage, a coronet in which the strawberry leaves should stand out more
prominently than in her brother's emblazonment. Lesbia's mind could not
conceive an ignoble marriage, or the possibility of the most worthy
happening to be found in a lower circle than her own.
And now it was the end of July, and the season which should have been
glorified by Lady Lesbia's _debut_ was over and done with. She had read
in the society papers of all the balls, and birthdays, and race
meetings, and regattas, and cricket matches, and gowns, and parasols,
and bonnets--what this beauty wore on such an occasion, and how that
other beauty looked on another occasion--and she felt as she read like a
spell-bound princess in a fairy tale, mewed up in a battlemented tower,
and deprived of her legitimate share in all the pleasures of earth. She
had no patience with Mary--that wild, unkempt, ungraceful creature, who
could be as happy as summer days are long, racing about the hills with
her bamboo alpenstock, rioting with a pack of fox-terriers, practising
long losers, rowing on the lake, doing all things unbecoming Lady
That long rainy day dragged its slow length to a close; and then came fine
days, in which Molly and her fox-terriers went wandering over the sunlit
hills, skipping and dancing across the mountain streamlets--gills, as they
were called in this particular world--almost as gaily as the shadows of
fleecy cloudlets dancing up yonder in the windy sky. Molly spent half her
days among the hills, stealing off from governess and grandmother and the
stately beauty sister, and sometimes hardly being missed by them, so ill
did her young exuberance harmonise with their calmer life.
'One can tell when Mary is at home by a perpetual banging of doors,'
said Lesbia, which was a sisterly exaggeration founded upon fact, for
Molly was given to impetuous rushing in and out of rooms when that eager
spirit of hers impelled the light lithe body upon some new expedition.
Nor is the society of fox-terriers conducive to repose or stateliness of
movement; and Maulevrier's terriers, although strictly forbidden the
house, were for ever breaking bonds and leaping in upon Molly's
retirement at all unreasonable hours. She and they were enchanted to get
away from the beautiful luxurious rooms, and to go roving by hill-side
and force, away to Easedale Tarn, to bask for hours on the grassy margin
of the deep still water, or to row round and round the mountain lake in
a rotten boat. It was here, or in some kindred spot, that Molly got
through most of her reading--here that she read Shakespeare, Byron, and
Shelley, and Wordsworth--dwelling lingeringly and lovingly upon every
line in which that good old man spoke of her native land. Sometimes she
climbed to higher ground, and felt herself ever so much nearer heaven
upon the crest of Silver Howe, or upon the rugged stony steep of Dolly
Waggon pike, half way up the dark brow of Helvellyn; sometimes she
disappeared for hours, and climbed to the summit of the hill, and
wandered in perilous pathways on Striding Edge, or by the dark still
water of the Red Tarn. This had been her life ever since she had been
old enough to have an independent existence; and the hills and the
lakes, and the books of her own choosing, had done a great deal more in
ripening her mind than Fraeulein Mueller and that admirable series of
educational works which has been provided for the tuition of modern
youth. Grammars and geographies, primers and elementary works of all
kinds, were Mary's detestation; but she loved books that touched her
heart and filled her mind with thoughts wide and deep enough to reach
into the infinite of time and space, the mystery of mind and matter,
life and death.
Nothing occurred to break the placid monotony of life at Fellside for
three long days after that rainy morning; and then came an event which,
although commonplace enough in itself, marked the beginning of a new era
in the existence of Lady Maulevrier's granddaughters.
It was evening, and the two girls were dawdling about on the sloping
lawn before the drawing-room windows, where Lady Maulevrier read the
newspapers in her own particular chair by one of those broad Tudor
windows, according to her infallible custom. Remote as her life had been
from the busy world, her ladyship had never allowed her knowledge of
public life and the bent of modern thought to fall into arrear. She took
a keen interest in politics, in progress of all kinds. She was a staunch
Conservative, and looked upon every Liberal politician as her personal
enemy; but she took care to keep herself informed of everything that was
being said or done in the enemy's camp. She had an intense respect for
Lord Bacon's maxim: Knowledge is power. It was a kind of power secondary
to the power of wealth, perhaps; but wealth unprotected by wisdom would
soon dwindle into poverty.
Lady Lesbia sauntered about the lawn, looking very elegant in her
cream-coloured Indian silk gown, very listless, very tired of her lovely
surroundings. Neither lake nor mountain possessed any charm for her. She
had had too much of them. Mary roamed about with a swifter footstep,
looking at the roses, plucking off a dead leaf, or a cankered bud here
and there. Presently she tore across the lawn to the shrubbery which
screened the lawn and flower gardens from the winding carriage drive
sunk many feet below, and disappeared in a thicket of arbutus and Irish
'What terribly hoydenish manners!' murmured Lesbia, with a languid shrug
of her shoulders, as she strolled back to the drawing-room.
She cared very little for the newspapers, for politics not at all; but
anything was better than everlasting-contemplation of the blue still
water, and the rugged crest of Helm Crag.
'What was the matter with Mary that she rushed off like a mad woman?'
inquired Lady Maulevrier, looking up from the _Times_.
'I haven't the least idea. Mary's movements are quite beyond the limits
of my comprehension. Perhaps she has gone after a bird's-nest.'
Mary was intent upon no bird's-nest. Her quick ear had caught the sound
of manly voices in the winding drive under the pine wood; and surely,
yes, surely one was a clear and familiar voice, which heralded the
coming of happiness. In such a moment she seemed to have wings. She
became unconscious that she touched the earth; she went skimming
bird-like over the lawn, and in and out, with fluttering muslin frock,
among arbutus and bay, yew and laurel, till she stood poised lightly on
the top of the wooded bank which bordered the steep ascent to Lady
Maulevrier's gate, looking down at two figures which were sauntering up
They were both young men, both tall, broad-shouldered, manly, walking
with the easy swinging movement of men accustomed to active exercise.
One, the handsomer of the two in Mary's eyes, since she thought him
simply perfection, was fair-haired, blue-eyed, the typical Saxon. This
was Lord Maulevrier. The other was dark, bronzed by foreign travel,
perhaps, with black hair, cut very close to an intelligent-looking head,
bared to the evening breeze.
'Hulloa!' cried Maulevrier. 'There's Molly. How d'ye do, old girl?'
The two men looked up, and Molly looked down. Delight at her brother's
return so filled her heart and mind that there was no room left for
embarrassment at the appearance of a stranger.
'O, Maulevrier, I am so glad! I have been pining for you. Why didn't you
write to say you were coming? It would have been something to look
'Couldn't. Never knew from day to day what I was going to be up to;
besides, I knew I should find you at home.'
'Of course. We are always at home,' said Mary; 'go up to the house as
fast as ever you can. I'll go and tell grandmother.'
'And tell them to get us some dinner,' said Maulevrier.
Mary's fluttering figure dipped and was gone, vanishing in the dark
labyrinth of shrubs. The two young men sauntered up to the house.
'We needn't hurry,' said Maulevrier to his companion, whom he had not
taken the trouble to introduce to his sister. 'We shall have to wait for
'And we shall have to change our dusty clothes,' added the other; 'I
hope that man will bring our portmanteaux in time.'
'Oh, we needn't dress. We can spend the evening in my den, if you
Mary flew across the lawn again, and bounded up the steps of the
verandah--a picturesque Swiss verandah which made a covered promenade in
front of the house.
'Mary, may I ask the meaning of this excitement,' inquired her ladyship,
as the breathless girl stood before her.
'Maulevrier has come home.'
'And he has brought a friend.'
'Indeed! He might have done me the honour to inquire if his friend's
visit would be agreeable. What kind of person?'
'I have no idea. I didn't look at him. Maulevrier is looking so well.
They will be here in a minute. May I order dinner for them?'
'Of course, they must have dinner,' said her ladyship, resignedly, as if
the whole thing were an infliction; and Mary ran out and interviewed the
butler, begging that all things might be made particularly comfortable
for the travellers. It was nine o'clock, and the servants were enjoying
their eventide repose.
Having given her orders, Mary went back to the drawing-room, impatiently
expectant of her brother's arrival, for which event Lesbia and her
grandmother waited with perfect tranquillity, the dowager calmly
continuing the perusal of her _Times_, while Lesbia sat at her piano in
a shadowy corner, and played one of Mendelssohn's softest Lieder. To
these dreamy strains Maulevrier and his friend presently entered.
'How d'ye do, grandmother? how do, Lesbia? This is my very good friend
and Canadian travelling companion, Jack Hammond--Lady Maulevrier, Lady
'Very glad to see you, Mr. Hammond,' said the dowager, in a tone so
purely conventional that it might mean anything. 'Hammond? I ought to
remember your family--the Hammonds of----'
'Of nowhere,' answered the stranger in the easiest tone; 'I spring from
a race of nobodies, of whose existence your ladyship is not likely to
MAULEVRIER'S HUMBLE FRIEND.
That faint interest which Lady Lesbia had felt in the advent of a
stranger dwindled to nothing after Mr. Hammond's frank avowal of his
insignificance. At the very beginning of her career, with the world
waiting to be conquered by her, a high-born beauty could not be expected
to feel any interest in nobodies. Lesbia shook hands with her brother,
honoured the stranger with a stately bend of her beautiful throat, and
then withdrew herself from their society altogether as it were, and
began to explore her basket of crewels, at a distant table, by the soft
light of a shaded lamp, while Maulevrier answered his grandmother's
questions, and Mary stood watching him, hanging on his words, as if
unconscious of any other presence.
Mr. Hammond went over to the window and looked out at the view. The moon
was rising above the amphitheatre of hills, and her rays were silvering
the placid bosom of the lake. Lights were dotted here and there about
the valley, telling of village life. The Prince of Wales's hotel yonder
sparkled with its many lights, like a castle in a fairy tale. The
stranger had looked upon many a grander scene, but on none more lovely.
Here were lake and mountain in little, without the snow-peaks and awful
inaccessible regions of solitude and peril; homely hills that one might
climb, placid English vales in which English poets have lived and died.
'Hammond and I mean to spend a month or six weeks with you, if you can
make us comfortable,' said Maulevrier.
'I am delighted to hear that you can contemplate staying a month
anywhere,' replied her ladyship. 'Your usual habits are as restless as
if your life were a disease. It shall not be my fault if you and Mr.
Hammond are uncomfortable at Fellside.'
There was courtesy, but no cordiality in the reply. If Mr. Hammond was a
sensitive man, touchily conscious of his own obscurity, he must have
felt that he was not wanted at Fellside--that he was an excrescence,
matter in the wrong place.
Nobody had presented the stranger to Lady Mary. It never entered into
Maulevrier's mind to be ceremonious about his sister Molly. She was so
much a part of himself that it seemed as if anyone who knew him must
needs know her. Molly sat a little way from the window by which Mr.
Hammond was standing, and looked at him doubtfully, wonderingly, with
not altogether a friendly eye, as he stood with his profile turned to
her, and his eyes upon the landscape. She was inclined to be jealous of
her brother's friend, who would most likely deprive her of much of that
beloved society. Hitherto she had been Maulevrier's chosen companion, at
Fellside--indeed, his sole companion after the dismissal of his tutor.
Now this brown, bearded stranger would usurp her privileges--those two
young men would go roaming over the hills, fishing, otter-hunting, going
to distant wrestling matches and leaving her at home. It was a hard
thing, and she was prepared to detest the interloper. Even to-night she
would be a loser by his presence. Under ordinary circumstances she would
have gone to the dining-room with Maulevrier, and sat by him and waited
upon him as he ate. But she dared not intrude herself upon a meal that
was to be shared with a stranger.
She looked at John Hammond critically, eager to find fault with his
appearence; but unluckily for her present humour there was not much room
He was tall, broad-shouldered, well-built. His enemies would hardly deny
that he was good-looking--nay, even handsome. The massive regular
features were irreproachable. He was more sunburnt than a gentleman
ought to be, Mary thought. She told herself that his good looks were of
a vulgar quality, like those of Charles Ford, the champion wrestler,
whom she saw at the sports the other day. Why did Maulevrier pick up a
companion who was evidently not of his own sphere? Hoydenish,
plain-spoken, frank and affectionate as Mary Haselden was, she knew that
she belonged to a race apart, that there were circles beneath circles,
below her own world, circles which hers could never touch, and she
supposed Mr. Hammond to be some waif from one of those nethermost
worlds--a village doctor's son, perhaps, or even a tradesman's--sent to
the University by some benevolent busybody, and placed at a disadvantage
ever afterwards, an unfortunate anomaly, suspended between two worlds
like Mahomet's coffin.
The butler announced that his lordship's dinner was served.
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