These were all the entries respecting the Meynell family to be found in the registry. There was no record of the burial of Caroline Mary, wife of William Meynell, nor of Christian Meynell, nor of Samuel Meynell, his son; and I knew that all these entries would be necessary to my astute Sheldon before his case would be complete. After my search of the registries, I went out into the churchyard to grope for the family vault of the Meynells, and found a grim square monument, enclosed by a railing that was almost eaten away by rust, and inscribed with the names and virtues of that departed house. The burial ground is interesting by reason of more distinguished company than the Meynells. John Milton, John Fox, author of the Martyrology, and John Speed, the chronologer, rest in this City churchyard.
In the hope of getting some clue to the missing data, I ventured to make a second call upon Mr. Grewter, whom I found rather inclined to be snappish, as considering the Meynell business unlikely to result in any profit to himself, and objecting on principle to take any trouble not likely to result in profit. I believe this is the mercantile manner of looking at things in a general way.
I asked him if he could tell me where Samuel Meynell was buried.
"I suppose he was buried in foreign parts," replied the old gentleman, with considerable grumpiness, "since he died in foreign parts."
"O, he died abroad, did he? Can you tell me where?"
"No, sir, I can't," replied Mr. Grewter, with increasing grumpiness; "I didn't trouble myself about other people's affairs then, and I don't trouble myself about them now, and I don't particularly care to be troubled about them by strangers."
I made the meekest possible apology for my intrusion, but the outraged Grewter was not appeased.
"Your best apology will be not doing it again," he replied. "Those that know my habits know that I take half an hour's nap after dinner. My constitution requires it, or I shouldn't take it. If I didn't happen to have a strange warehouseman on my premises, you wouldn't have been allowed to disturb me two afternoons running."
Finding Mr. Grewter unappeasable, I left him, and went to seek a more placable spirit in the shape of Anthony Sparsfield, carver and gilder, of Barbican.
I found the establishment of Sparsfield and Son, carvers and gilders. It was a low dark shop, in the window of which were exhibited two or three handsomely carved frames, very much the worse for flies, and one oil-painting, of a mysterious and Rembrandtish character. The old-established air that pervaded almost all the shops in this neighbourhood was peculiarly apparent in the Sparsfield establishment.
In the shop I found a mild-faced man of about forty engaged in conversation with a customer. I waited patiently while the customer finished a minute description of the kind of frame he wanted made for a set of proof engravings after Landseer; and when the customer had departed, I asked the mild-faced man if I could see Mr. Sparsfield.
"I am Mr. Sparsfield," he replied politely.
"Not Mr. Anthony Sparsfield?"
"Yes, my name is Anthony."
"I was given to understand that Mr. Anthony Sparsfield was a much older person."
"O, I suppose you mean my father," replied the mild-faced man. "My father is advanced in years, and does very little in the business nowadays; not but what his head is as clear as ever it was, and there are some of our old customers like to see him when they give an order."
This sounded hopeful. I told Mr. Sparsfield the younger that I was not a customer, and then proceeded to state the nature of my business. I found him as courteous as Mr. Grewter had been disobliging.
"Me and father are old-fashioned people," he said; "and we're not above living over our place of business, which most of the Barbican tradespeople are nowadays. The old gentleman is taking tea in the parlour upstairs at this present moment, and if you don't mind stepping up to him, I'm sure he'll be proud to give you any information he can. He likes talking of old times."
This was the sort of oldest inhabitant I wanted to meet with—a very different kind of individual from Mr. Grewter, who doled out every answer to my questions as grudgingly as if it had been a five-pound note.
I was conducted to a snug little sitting-room on the first-floor, where there was a cheerful fire and a comfortable odour of tea and toast. I was invited to take a cup of tea; and as I perceived that my acceptance of the invitation would be accounted a kind of favour, I said yes. The tea was very weak, and very warm, and very sweet; but Mr. Sparsfield and his son sipped it with as great an air of enjoyment as if it had been the most inspiring of beverages.
Mr. Sparsfield the elder was more or less rheumatic and asthmatic, but a cheerful old man withal, and quite ready to prate of old times, when Barbican and Aldersgate-street were pleasanter places than they are to-day, or had seemed so to this elderly citizen.
"Meynell!" he exclaimed; "I knew Sam Meynell as well as I knew my own brother, and I knew old Christian Meynell almost as well as I knew my own father. There was more sociability in those days, you see, sir. The world seems to have grown too full to leave any room for friendship. It's all push and struggle, and struggle and push, as you may say; and a man will make you a frame for five-and-twenty shillings that will look more imposing like than what I could turn out for five pound, Only the gold-leaf will all drop off after a twelvemonth's wear; and that's the way of the world nowadays. There's a deal of gilding, and things are made to look uncommon bright; but the gold all drops off 'em before long."
After allowing the old man to moralise to his heart's content, I brought him back politely to the subject in which I was interested.
"Samuel Meynell was as good a fellow as ever breathed," he said; "but he was too fond of the tavern. There were some very nice taverns round about Aldersgate-street in those days; and you see, sir, the times were stirring times, and folks liked to get together and talk over the day's news, with a pipe of tobacco and a glass of their favourite liquor, all in a sociable way. Poor Sam Meynell took a little too much of his favourite liquor; and when the young woman that he had been keeping company with—Miss Dobberly of Jewin-street—jilted him and married a wholesale butcher in Newgate Market, who was old enough to be her father, Sam took to drinking, and neglected his business. One day he came to me and said, 'I've sold the business, Tony,'—for it was Sam and Tony with us, you see, sir,—'and I'm off to France.' This was soon after the battle of Waterloo; and many folks had a fancy for going over to France now that they'd seen the back of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was generally alluded to in those days by the name of monster or tiger, and was understood to make his chief diet off frogs. Well, sir, we were all of us very much surprised at Sam's going to foreign parts; but as he'd always been wild, it was only looked upon as a part of his wildness, and we weren't so much surprised to hear a year or two afterwards that he'd drunk himself to death upon cheap brandy—odyvee as they call it, poor ignorant creatures—at Calais."
"He died at Calais?"
"Yes," replied the old man; "I forget who brought the news home, but I remember hearing it. Poor Sam Meynell died and was buried amongst the Mossoos."
"You are sure he was buried at Calais?"
"Yes, as sure as I can be of anything. Travelling was no easy matter in those days, and in foreign parts there was nothing but diligences, which I've heard say were the laziest-going vehicles ever invented. There was no one to bring poor Sam's remains back to England, for his mother was dead, and his two sisters were settled somewhere down in Yorkshire."
In Yorkshire! I am afraid I looked rather sheepish when Mr. Sparsfield senior mentioned this particular county, for my thoughts took wing and were with Charlotte Halliday before the word had well escaped his lips.
"Miss Meynell settled in Yorkshire, did she?" I asked.
"Yes, she married some one in the farming way down there. Her mother was a Yorkshirewoman, and she and her sister went visiting among her mother's relations, and never came back to London. One of them married, the other died a spinster."
"Do you remember the name of the man she married?"
"No," replied Mr. Sparsfield, "I can't say that I do."
"Do you remember the name of the place she went to—the town or village, or whatever it was?"
"I might remember it if I heard it," he responded thoughtfully; "and I ought to remember it, for I've heard Sam Meynell talk of his sister Charlotte's home many a time. She was christened Charlotte, you see, after the Queen. I've a sort of notion that the name of the village was something ending in Cross, as it might be Charing Cross, or Waltham Cross."
This was vague, but it was a great deal more than I had been able to extort from Mr. Grewter. I took a second cup of the sweet warm liquid which my new friends called tea, in order to have an excuse for loitering, while I tried to obtain more light from the reminiscences of the old frame-maker.
No more light came, however. So I was fain to take my leave, reserving to myself the privilege of calling again on a future occasion.
Oct. 18th. I sent Sheldon a statement of my Aldersgate-street researches the day before yesterday morning. He went carefully through the information I had collected, and approved my labours.
"You've done uncommonly well, considering the short time you've been at the work," he said; "and you've reason to congratulate yourself upon having your ground all laid out for you, as my ground has never been laid out for me. The Meynell branch seems to be narrowing itself into the person of Christian Meynell's daughter and her descendants, and our most important business now will be to find out when, where, and whom she married, and what issue arose from such marriage. This I think you ought to be able to do."
I shook my head rather despondingly.
"I don't see any hope of finding out the name of the young woman's husband," I said, "unless I can come across another oldest inhabitant, gifted with a better memory for names and places than my obliging Sparsfield or my surly Grewter."
"There are the almshouses," said Sheldon; "you haven't tried them yet."
"No; I suppose I must go in for the almshouses," I replied, with the sublime resignation of the pauper, whose poverty must consent to anything; "though I confess that the prosiness of the almshouse intellect is almost more than I can endure."
"And how do you know that you mayn't get the name of the place out of your friend the carver and gilder?" said George Sheldon; "he has given you some kind of clue in telling you that the name ends in Cross. He said he should know the name if he heard it; why not try him with it?"
"But in order to do that, I must know the name myself," replied I, "and in that ease I shouldn't want the aid of my Sparsfield."
"You are not great in expedients," said Sheldon, tilting back his chair, and taking a shabby folio from a shelf of other shabby folios. "This is a British gazetteer," he said, turning to the index of the work before him. "We'll test the ancient Sparsfield's memory with every Cross in the three Ridings, and if the faintest echo of the name we want still lingers in his feeble old brain, we'll awaken it." My patron ran his finger-nail along one of the columns of the index.
"Just take your pencil and write down the names as I call them," he said. "Here we are—Aylsey Cross; and here we are again—Bowford Cross, Callindale Cross, Huxter's Cross, Jarnam Cross, Kingborough Cross." Then, after a careful examination of the column, he exclaimed, "Those are all the Crosses in the county of York, and it will go hard with us if you or I can't find the descendants of Christian Meynell's daughter at one of them. The daughter herself may be alive, for anything we know."
"And how about the Samuel Meynell who died at Calais? You'll have to find some record of his death, won't you? I suppose in these cases one must prove everything."
"Yes, I must prove the demise of Samuel," replied the sanguine genealogist; "that part of the business I'll see to myself, while you hunt out the female branch of the Meynells. I want an outing after a long spell of hard work; so I'll run across to Calais and search for the register of Samuel's interment. I suppose somebody took the trouble to bury him, though he was a stranger in the land."
"And if I extort the name we want from poor old Sparsfield's recollection?"
"In that case you can start at once for the place, and begin your search on the spot. It can't be above fifty years since this woman married, and there must be some inhabitant of the place old enough to remember her. O, by the bye, I suppose you'll be wanting more cash for expenses," added Mr. Sheldon, with a sigh. He took a five-pound note from his pocket-book, and gave it to me with a piteous air of self-sacrifice. I know that he is poor, and that whatever money he does contrive to earn is extorted from the necessities of his needier brethren. Some of this money he speculates upon the chances of the Haygarthian succession, as he his speculated his money on worse chances in the past. "Three thousand pounds!" he said to me, as he handed me the poor little five-pound note; "think what a prize you are working for, and work your hardest. The nearer we get to the end, the slower our progress seems to me; and yet it has been very rapid progress, considering all things."
So sentimental have I become, that I thought less of that possible three thousand pounds than of the fact that I was likely to go to Yorkshire, the county of Charlotte's birth, the county where she was now staying. I reminded myself that it was the largest shire in England, and that of all possible coincidences of time and place, there could be none more unlikely than the coincidence that would bring about a meeting between Charlotte Halliday and me.
"I know that for all practical purposes I shall be no nearer to her in Yorkshire than in London," I said to myself; "but I shall have the pleasure of fancying myself nearer to her."
Before leaving George Sheldon, I told him of the fragmentary sentences I had heard uttered by Captain Paget and Philip Sheldon at the Lawn; but he pooh-poohed my suspicions.
"I'll tell you what it is, Valentine Hawkehurst," he said, fixing those hard black eyes of his upon me as if he would fain have pierced the bony covering of my skull to discover the innermost workings of my brain; "neither Captain Paget nor my brother Phil can know anything of this business, unless you have turned traitor and sold them my secrets. And mark me, if you have, you've sold yourself and them into the bargain: my hand holds the documentary evidence, without which all your knowledge is worthless."
"I am not a traitor," I told him quietly, for I despise him far too heartily to put myself into a passion about anything he might please to say of me; "and I have never uttered a word about this business either to Captain Paget or to your brother. If you begin to distrust me, it is high time you should look out for a new coadjutor."
I had my Sheldon, morally speaking, at my feet in a moment.
"Don't be melodramatic, Hawkehurst," he said; "people sell each other every day of the week, and no one blames the seller, provided he makes a good bargain. But this is a case in which the bargain would be a very bad one."
After this I took my leave of Mr. Sheldon. He was to start for Calais by that night's mail, and return to town directly his investigation was completed. If he found me absent on his return, he would conclude that I had obtained the information I required and started for Yorkshire. In this event he would patiently await the receipt of tidings from that county.
I went straight from Gray's Inn to Jewin-street. I had spent the greater part of the day in Sheldon's office, and when I presented myself before my complacent Sparsfield junior, Sparsfield senior's tea and toast were already in process of preparation; and I was again invited to step upstairs to the family sitting-room, and again treated with that Arcadian simplicity of confidence and friendliness which it has been my fate to encounter quite as often in the heart of this sophisticated city as in the most pastoral of villages. With people who were so frank and cordial I could but be equally frank.
"I am afraid I am making myself a nuisance to you, Mr. Sparsfield," I said; "but I know you'll forgive me when I tell you that the affair I'm engaged in is a matter of vital importance to me, and that your help may do a great deal towards bringing matters to a crisis."
Mr. Sparsfield senior declared himself always ready to assist his fellow-creatures, and was good enough further to declare that he had taken a liking to me. So weak had I of late become upon all matters of sentiment, I thanked Mr. Sparsfield for his good opinion, and then went on to tell him that I was about to test his memory.
"And it ain't a bad un," he cried, cheerily, clapping his hand upon his knee by way of emphasis. "It ain't a bad memory, is it, Tony?"
"Few better, father," answered the dutiful Anthony junior. "Your memory's better than mine, a long way."
"Ah," said the old man, with a chuckle, "folks lived different in my day. There weren't no gas, and there weren't no railroads, and London tradespeople was content to live in the same house from year's end to year's end. But now your tradesman must go on his foreign tours, like a prince of the royal family, and he must go here and go there; and when he's been everywhere, he caps it all by going through the Gazette. Folks stayed at home in my day; but they made their fortunes, and they kept their health, and their eyesight, and their memory, and their hearing, and many of 'em have lived to see the next generation make fools of themselves."
"Why, father," cried Anthony junior, aghast at this flood of eloquence, "what an oration!"
"And it ain't often I make an oration, is it, Tony?" said the old man, laughing. "I only mean to say that if my memory's pretty bright, it may be partly because I haven't frittered it away upon nonsense, as some folks have. I've stayed at home and minded my own business, and left other people to mind theirs. And now, sir, if you want the help of my memory, I'm ready to give it."
"You told me the other day that you could not recall the name of the place where Christian Meynell's daughter married, but you said you should remember it if you heard it, and you also said that the name ended in Cross."
"I'll stick to that," replied my ancient friend. "I'll stick to that." "Very well then. It is a settled thing that the place was in Yorkshire?"
"Yes, I'm sure of that too."
"And that the name ended in Cross?"
"It did, as sure as my name is Sparsfield."
"Then in that case, as there are only six towns or villages in the county of York the names of which end in Cross, it stands to reason that the place we want must be one of those six."
Having thus premised, I took my list from my pocket and read aloud the names of the six places, very slowly, for Mr. Sparsfield's edification.
"Aylsey Cross—Bowford Cross—Callindale Cross—Huxter's Cross—Jarnam Cross—Kingborough Cross."
"That's him!" cried my old friend suddenly.
"Which?" I asked eagerly.
"Huxter's Cross; I remember thinking at the time that it must be a place where they sold things, because of the name Huxter, you see, pronounced just the same as if it was spelt with a cks instead of an x. And I heard afterwards that there'd once been a market held at the place, but it had been done away with before our time. Huxter's Cross; yes, that's the name of the place where Christian Meynell's daughter married and settled. I've heard it many a time from poor Sam, and it comes back to me as plain as if I'd never forgotten it."
There was an air of conviction about the old man which satisfied me that he was not deceived. I thanked him heartily for his aid as I took my leave.
"You may have helped to put a good lump of money in my pocket, Mr. Sparsfield," I said; "and if you have, I'll get my picture taken, if it's only for the pleasure of bringing it here to be framed."
With this valedictory address I left my simple citizens of Barbican. My heart was very light as I wended my way across those metropolitan wilds that lay between Barbican and Omega-street. I am ashamed of myself when I remember the foolish cause of this elation of mind. I was going to Yorkshire, the county of which my Charlotte was now an inhabitant. My Charlotte! It is a pleasure even to write that delicious possessive pronoun—the pleasure of poor Alnascher, the crockery-seller, dreaming his day-dream in the eastern market-place.
Can any one know better than I that I shall be no nearer Charlotte Halliday in Yorkshire than I am in London? No one. And yet I am glad my Sheldon's business takes me to the woods and wolds of that wide northern shire.
Huxter's Cross—some Heaven-forgotten spot, no doubt. I bought a railway time-table on my way home to-night, and have carefully studied the bearings of the place amongst whose mouldy records I am to discover the history of Christian Meynell's daughter and heiress.
I find that Huxter's Cross lies off the railroad, and is to be approached by an obscure little station—as I divine from the ignominious type in which its name appears—about sixty miles northward of Hull. The station is called Hidling; and at Hidling there seems to be a coach which plies between the station and Huxter's Cross.
Figure to yourself again, my dear, the heir-at-law to a hundred thousand pounds vegetating in the unknown regions of Huxter's Cross cum Hidling, unconscious of his heritage!
Shall I find him at the plough-tail, I wonder, this mute inglorious heir-at-law? or shall I find an heiress with brawny arms meekly churning butter? or shall I discover the last of the Meynells taking his rest in some lonely churchyard, not to be awakened by earthly voice proclaiming the tidings of earthly good fortune?
I am going to Yorkshire—that is enough for me. I languish for the starting of the train which shall convey me thither. I begin to understand the nostalgia of the mountain herdsman: I pine for that northern air, those fresh pure breezes blowing over moor and wold—though I am not quite clear, by the bye, as to the exact nature of a wold. I pant, I yearn for Yorkshire. I, the cockney, the child of Temple Bar, whose cradle-song was boomed by the bells of St. Dunstan's and St. Clement's Danes.
Is not Yorkshire my Charlotte's birthplace? I want to see the land whose daughters are so lovely.
November 1st. This is Huxter's Cross, and I live here. I have lived here a week. I should like to live here for ever. O, let me be rational for a few hours, while I write the record of this last blissful week; let me be reasonable, and business-like, and Sheldon-like for this one wet afternoon, and then I may be happy and foolish again. Be still, beating heart! as the heroines of Minerva-press romances were accustomed to say to themselves on the smallest provocation. Be still, foolish, fluttering, schoolboy heart, which has taken a new lease of youth and folly from a fair landlord called Charlotte Halliday.
Drip, drip, drip, O rain! "The day is dark and cold and dreary, and the vine still clings to the mouldering wall; and with every gust the dead leaves fall:" but thy sweet sad verse wakes no responsive echo in my heart, O tender Transatlantic Poet, for my heart is light and glad—recklessly glad—heedless of to-morrow—forgetful of yesterday—full to the very brim with the dear delight of to-day.
And now to business. I descend from the supernal realms of fancy to the dry record of commonplace fact. This day week I arrived at Hidling, after a tedious journey, which, with stoppages at Derby and Normanton, and small delays at obscurer stations, had occupied the greater part of the day. It was dusk when I took my place in the hybrid vehicle, half coach, half omnibus, which was to convey me from Hidling to Huxter's Cross. A transient glimpse at Hidling showed me one long straggling street and a square church-tower. Our road branched off from the straggling street, and in the autumn dusk I could just discover the dim outlines of distant hills encircling a broad waste of moor.
I have been so steeped in London that this wild barren scene had a charm for me which it could scarcely possess for others. Even the gloom of that dark waste of common land was pleasant to me. I shared the public vehicle with one old woman, who snored peacefully in the remotest corner, while I looked out at the little open window and watched the darkening landscape.
Our drive occupied some hours. We passed two or three little clusters of cottages and homesteads, where the geese screamed and the cocks crowed at our approach, and where a few twinkling tapers in upper windows proclaimed the hour of bed-time. At one of these clusters of habitation, a little island of humanity in the waste of wold and moor, we changed horses, with more yo-oh-ing and come-up-ing than would have attended the operation in a civilised country. At this village I heard the native tongue for the first time in all its purity; and for any meaning which it conveyed to my ear I might as well have been listening to the patois of agricultural Carthage.
After changing horses, we went up hill, with perpetual groanings, and grumblings, and grindings, and whip-smacking and come-up-ing, for an indefinite period; and then we came to a cluster of cottages, suspended high up in the sharp autumn atmosphere as it seemed to me; and the driver of the vehicle came to my little peephole of a window, and told me with some slight modification of the Carthaginian patois that I was "theer."
I alighted, and found myself at the door of a village inn, with the red light from within shining out upon me where I stood, and a battered old sign groaning and creaking above my head. For me, who in all my life had been accustomed to find my warmest welcome at an inn, this was to be at home. I paid my fare, took up my carpet-bag, and entered the hostelry.
I found a rosy-faced landlady, clean and trim, though a trifle floury as to the arms and apron. She had emerged from a kitchen, an old-fashioned chamber with a floor of red brick; a chamber which was all in a rosy glow with the firelight, and looked like a Dutch picture, as I peeped at it through the open doorway. There were the most picturesque of cakes and loaves heaped on a wooden bench by the hearth, and the whole aspect of the place was delicious in its homely comfort.
"O," I said to myself, "how much better the northern winds blowing over these untrodden hills, and the odour of home-made loaves, than the booming bells of St. Dunstan's, and the greasy steam of tavern chops and steaks!"
My heart warmed to this Yorkshire and these Yorkshire people. Was it for Charlotte's sake, I wonder, that I was so ready to open my heart to everybody and everything in this unknown land?
A very brief parley set me quite at ease with my landlady. Even, the Carthaginian patois became intelligible to me after a little experience. I found that I could have a cosy, cleanly chamber, and be fed and cared for upon terms that seemed absurdly small, even to a person of my limited means. My cordial hostess brought me a meal which was positively luxurious; broiled ham and poached eggs, such as one scarcely hopes to see out of a picture of still life; crisp brown cakes fresh from that wonderful oven whose door I had seen yawning open in the Flemish interior below; strong tea and cream—the cream that one reads of in pastoral stories.
I enjoyed my banquet, and then opened my window and looked out at the still landscape, dimly visible in the faint starlight.
I was at the top of a hill—the topmost of an ascending range of hills—and to some minds that alone is rapture. To inhale the fresh night air was to drink deeply of an ethereal beverage. I had never experienced so delicious a sensation since I had stood on the grassy battlements of the Chateau d'Arques, with the orchards and gardens of sunny Normandy spread like a carpet below my feet.
But this hill was loftier than that on which the feudal castle rears its crumbling towers, and the landscape below me was wilder than verdant Normandy.
No words can tell how I rejoiced in this untrodden region—this severance from the Strand and Temple Bar. I felt as if my old life was falling away from me—like the scales of the lepers who were cleansed by the Divine Healer. I felt myself worthier to love, or even to be loved by, the bright true-hearted girl whose image fills my heart. Ah, if Heaven gave me that dear angel, I think my old life, my old recklessness, my old want of principle, would drop away from me altogether, and the leper would stand forth cleansed and whole. Could I not be happy with her here, among these forgotten hills, these widely scattered homesteads? Could I not be happy dissevered eternally from billiard-room and kursaal, race-ground and dancing-rooms? Yes, completely and unreservedly happy—happy as a village curate with seventy pounds a year and a cast-off coat, supplied by the charity of a land too poor to pay its pastors the wage of a decent butler—happy as a struggling farmer, though the clay soil of my scanty acres were never so sour and stubborn, my landlord never so hard about his rent—happy as a pedlar, with my pack of cheap tawdry wares slung behind me, and my Charlotte tramping gaily by my side.
I breakfasted next morning in a snug little parlour behind the bar, where I overheard two carters conversing in the Carthaginian patois, to which I became hourly more accustomed. My brisk cheery landlady came in and out while I took my meal; and whenever I could detain her long enough, I tried to engage her in conversation.
I asked her if she had ever heard the name of Meynell; and after profound consideration she replied in the negative.
"I don't mind hearing aught of folks called Meynell," she said with more or less of the patois, which I was beginning to understand; "but I haven't got mooch memory for nee-ams. I might have heard o' such folks, and not minded t' nee-am."
This was rather dispiriting; but I knew that if any record of Christian Meynell's daughter existed at Huxter's Cross, it was in my power to discover it.
I asked if there was any official in the way of a registrar to be found in the village; and found that there was no one more important than an old man who kept the keys of the church. The registers were kept in the vestry, my landlady believed, and the old man was called Jonas Gorles, and lived half a mile off, at the homestead of his son-in-law. But my landlady said she would send for him immediately, and pledged herself to produce him in the course of an hour. I told her that I would find my way to the churchyard in the mean time, whither Mr. Gorles could follow me as soon as convenient.
The autumnal morning was fresh and bright as spring, and Huxter's Cross seemed the most delightful place on earth to me, though it is only a cluster of cottages, relieved by one farmhouse of moderate pretensions, my hostelry of the Magpie, a general shop, which is also the post-office, and a fine old Norman church, which lies away from the village, and bears upon it the traces of better days. Near the church there is an old granite cross, around which the wild flowers and grasses grow rank and high. It marks the spot where there was once a flourishing market-place; but all mortal habitations have vanished, and the Huxter's Cross of the past has now no other memorial than this crumbling stone.
The churchyard was unutterably still and solitary. A robin was perched on the topmost bar of the old wooden gate, singing his joyous carol. As I approached, he hopped from the gate to the low moss-grown wall, and went on singing as I passed him. I was in the humour to apostrophise skylark or donkey, or to be sentimental about anything in creation, just then; so I told my robin what a pretty creature he was, and that I would sooner perish than hurt him by so much as the tip of a feather.
Being bound to remember my Sheldon even when most sentimental, I endeavoured to combine the meditative mood of a Hervey with the business-like sharpness of a lawyer's clerk; and while musing on the common lot of man in general, I did not omit to search the mouldering tombstones for some record of the Meynells in particular.
I found none; and yet, if the daughter of Christian Meynell had been buried in that churchyard, the name of her father would surely have been inscribed upon her tombstone. I had read all the epitaphs when the wooden gate creaked on its hinges, and admitted a wizen little old man—one of those ancient meanderers who seem to have been created on purpose to fill the post of sexton.
With this elderly individual I entered the church of Huxter's Cross, which had the same mouldy atmosphere as the church at Spotswold. The vestry was an icy little chamber, which had once been a family vault; but it was not much colder than Miss Judson's best parlour; and I endured the cold bravely while I searched the registries of the last sixty years.
I searched in vain. After groping amongst the names of all the nonentities who had been married at Huxter's Cross since the beginning of the century, I found myself no nearer the secret of Charlotte Meynell's marriage. And then I reflected upon all the uncertainties surrounding that marriage. Miss Meynell had gone to Yorkshire, to visit her mother's relations, and had married in Yorkshire; and the place which Anthony Sparsfield remembered having heard of in connection with that marriage was Huxter's Cross. But it did not by any means follow that the marriage had taken place at that obscure village. Miss Meynell might have been married at Hull, or York, or Leeds, or at any of the principal places of the county. With that citizen class of people marriage was a grand event, a solemn festivity; and Miss Meynell and her friends would have been likely to prefer that so festive an occasion should be celebrated anywhere rather than at that forgotten old church among the hills. "I shall have to search every register in Yorkshire till I light upon the record I want," I thought to myself, "unless Sheldon will consent to advertise for the Meynell marriage certificate. There could scarcely be danger in such an advertisement, as the connection between the name of Meynell and the Haygarth estate is only known to ourselves."
Acting upon this idea, I wrote to George Sheldon by that afternoon's post, urging him to advertise for descendants of Miss Charlotte Meynell.
Charlotte! dear name, which is a kind of music for me. It was almost a pleasure to write that letter, because of the repetition of that delightful noun.
The next day I devoted to a drive round the neighbourhood, in a smart little dog-cart, hired on very moderate terms from mine host. I had acquainted myself with the geography of the surrounding country; and I contrived to visit every village church within a certain radius of Huxter's Cross. But my inspection of mildewed old books, and my heroic endurance of cold and damp in mouldy old churches, resulted in nothing but disappointment.
I returned to my "Magpie" after dark a little disheartened and thoroughly tired, but still very well pleased with my rustic quarters and my adopted county. My landlord's horse had shown himself a very model of equine perfection.
Candles were lighted and curtains drawn in my cosy little chamber, and the table creaked beneath one of those luxurious Yorkshire teas which might wean an alderman from the coarser delights of turtle or conger-eel soup and venison.
At noon the following day a very primitive kind of postman brought me a letter from Sheldon. That astute individual told me that he declined to advertise, or to give any kind of publicity to his requirements.
"If I were not afraid of publicity, I should not be obliged to pay you a pound a week," he remarked, with pleasing candour, "since advertisements would get me more information in a week than you may scrape together in a twelvemonth. But I happen to know the danger of publicity, and that many a good thing has been snatched out of a man's hands just as he was working it into shape. I don't say that this could be done in my case; and you know very well that it could not be done, as I hold papers which are essential to the very first move in the business."
I perfectly understand the meaning of these remarks, and I am inclined to doubt the existence of those important papers. Suspicion is a fundamental principle in the Sheldon mind. My friend George trusts me because he is obliged to trust me—and only so far as he is obliged—and is tormented, more or less, by the idea that I may at any moment attempt to steal a march upon him.
But to return to his letter:
"I should recommend you to examine the registries of every town or village within, say, thirty miles of Huxter's Cross. If you find nothing in such registries, we must fall back upon the larger towns, beginning with Hull, as being nearest to our starting-point. The work will, I fear, be slow, and very expensive for me. I need scarcely again urge upon you the necessity of confining your outlay to the minimum, as you know that my affairs are desperate. It couldn't well be lower water than it is with me, in a pecuniary sense; and I expect every day to find myself aground.
"And now for my news. I have discovered the burial-place of Samuel Meynell, after no end of trouble, the details of which I needn't bore you with, since you are now pretty well up in that sort of work. I am thankful to say I have secured the evidence that settles for Samuel, and ascertained by tradition that he died unmarried. The onus probandi would fall upon any one purporting to be descended from the said Samuel, and we know how uncommonly difficult said person would find it to prove anything.
"So, having disposed of Samuel, I came back to London by the next mail; Calais, in the month of November, not being one of those wildly-gay watering-places which tempt the idler. I arrived just in time to catch this afternoon's post; and now I look impatiently to your Miss Charlotte Meynell, of Huxter's Cross.—Yours, &c. G.S."
I obeyed my employer to the letter; hired my landlord's dog-cart for another day's exploration; and went further afield in search of Miss Charlotte's marriage-lines. I came home late at night—this time thoroughly worn out—studied a railway guide with a view to my departure, and decided on starting for Hull by a train that would leave Hidling station at four o'clock on the following afternoon.
I went to bed tired in body and depressed in spirit. Why was I so sorry to leave Huxter's Cross? What subtle instinct of the brain or heart made me aware that the desert region amongst the hills held earth's highest felicity for me?
The next morning was bright and clear. I heard the guns of sportsmen popping merrily in the still air as I breakfasted before an open window, while a noble sea-coal fire blazed on the hearth opposite me. There is no stint of fuel at the Magpie. Everything in Yorkshire seems to be done with a lavish hand. I have heard Yorkshiremen called mean. As if meanness could exist in the hearts of my Charlotte's countrymen! My own experience of the county is brief; but I can only say that my friends of the Magpie are liberality itself, and that a Yorkshire tea is the very acme of unsophisticated bliss in the way of eating and drinking. I have dined at Philippe's; I know every dish in the menu of the Maison Doree; but if I am to make my life a burden beneath the dark sway of the demon dyspepsia, let my destruction arrive in the shape of the ham and eggs, the crisp golden-brown cakes, and undefiled honey, of this northern Arcadia.
I told my friendly hostess that I was going to leave her, and she was sorry. She was sorry for me, the wanderer. I can picture to myself the countenance of a London landlady if informed thus suddenly of her lodger's departure, and her suppressed mutterings about the ill-convenience of such a proceeding.
After breakfast I went out to take my own pleasure. I had done my duty in the matter of mouldy churches and mildewed registries; and I considered myself entitled to a holiday during the few hours that must elapse before the starting of the hybrid vehicle for Hidling.
I sauntered past the little cluster of cottages, admiring their primitive aspect, the stone-crop on the red-tiled roofs, that had sunk under the weight of years. All was unspeakably fresh and bright; the tiny panes of the casement twinkled in the autumn sunlight, birds sang, and hardy red geraniums bloomed in the cottage windows. What pleasure or distraction had the good housewives of Huxter's Cross to lure them from the domestic delights of scrubbing and polishing? I saw young faces peeping at me from between snow-white muslin curtains, and felt that I was a personage for once in my life; and it was pleasant to feel one's self of some importance even in the eyes of Huxter's Cross.
Beyond the cottages and the post-office there were three roads stretching far away over hill and moorland. With two of those roads I had made myself thoroughly familiar; but the third remained to be explored.
"So now for 'fresh fields and pastures new,'" I said to myself as I quickened my pace, and walked briskly along my unknown road.
Ah, surely there is some meaning in the fluctuations of the mental barometer. What but an instinctive consciousness of approaching happiness could have made me so light-hearted that morning? I sang as I hastened along that undiscovered road. Fragments of old Italian serenades and barcarolles came back to me as if I had heard them yesterday for the first time. The perfume of the few lingering wild-flowers, the odour of burning weeds in the distance, the fresh autumn breeze, the clear cold blue sky,—all were intensely delicious to me; and I felt as if this one lonely walk were a kind of renovating process, from which my soul would emerge cleansed of all its stains.
"I have to thank George Sheldon for a great deal," I said to myself, "since through him I have been obliged to educate myself in the school of man's best teacher, Solitude. I do not think I can ever be a thorough Bohemian again. These lonely wanderings have led me to discover a vein of seriousness in my nature which I was ignorant of until now. How thoroughly some men are the creatures of their surroundings! With Paget I have been a Paget. But a few hours tete-a-tete with Nature renders one averse from the society of Pagets, be they never so brilliant."
From moralising thus, I fell into a delicious day-dream. All my dreams of late had moved to the same music. How happy I could be if Fate gave me Charlotte and three hundred a year! In sober moods I asked for this much of worldly wealth, just to furnish a nest for my bird. In my wilder moments I asked Fate for nothing but Charlotte.
"Give me the bird without the nest," I cried to Fortune; "and we will take wing to some trackless forest where there are shelter and berries for nestless birds. We will imitate that delightful bride and bridegroom of Parisian Bohemia, who married and settled in an attic, and when their stock of fuel was gone fell foul of the staircase that led to their bower, and so supplied themselves merrily enough till the staircase was all consumed, and the poor little bride, peeping out of her door one morning, found herself upon the verge of an abyss.
"And then came the furious landlord, demanding restitution. But close behind the landlord came the good fairy of all love-stories, with Pactolus in her pocket. Ah, yes, there is always a providence for true lovers."
I had passed away by this time from the barren moor to the regions of cultivation. The trimly-cut hedges on each side of the way showed me that my road now lay between farm lands. I was outside the boundary of some upland farm. I saw sheep cropping trefoil in a field on the other side of the brown hedgerow, and at a distance I saw the red-tiled roof of a farm-house.
I looked at my watch, and found that I had still half an hour to spare; so I went on towards the farm-house, bent upon seeing what sort of habitation it was. In a solitary landscape like this, every dwelling-place has a kind of attraction for the wayfarer.
I went on till I came to a white gate, against which a girlish figure was leaning.
It was a graceful figure, dressed in that semi-picturesque costume which has been adopted by women of late years. The vivid blue of a boddice was tempered by the sober gray of a skirt, and a bright-hued ribbon gleamed among rich tresses of brown hair.
The damsel's face was turned away from me, but there was something in the carriage of the head, something in the modelling of the firm full throat, which reminded me of—
But then, when a man is over head and ears in love, everything in creation reminds him more or less of his idol. Your pious Catholic gives all his goods for the adornment of a church; your true lover devotes his every thought to the dressing up of one dear image.
The damsel turned as my steps drew near, loud on the crisp gravel. She turned, and showed me the face of Charlotte Halliday.
I must entreat posterity to forgive me, if I leave a blank at this stage of my story. "There are chords in the human heart which had better not be wibrated," said Sim Tappertit. There are emotions which can only be described by the pen of a poet. I am not a poet; and if my diary is so happy as to be of some use to posterity as a picture of the manners of a repentant Bohemian, posterity must not quarrel with my shortcomings in the way of sentimental description.
We stood at the white gate talking to each other, my Charlotte and I. The old red-tiled roof which I had seen in the distance sheltered the girl I love. The solitary farm-house which it had been my whim to examine was the house in which my dear love made her home. It was here, to this untrodden hillside, that my darling had come from the prim modern villa at Bayswater. Ah, what happiness to find her here, far away from all those stockbroking surroundings—here, where our hearts expanded beneath the divine influence of Nature!
I fear that I was coxcomb enough to fancy myself beloved that day we parted in Kensington-gardens. A look, a tone—too subtle for definition—thrilled me with a sudden hope so bright, that I would not trust myself to believe it could be realised.
"She is a coquette," I said to myself. "Coquetry is one of the graces which Nature bestows upon these bewitching creatures. That little conscious look, which stirred this weak heart so tumultuously, is no doubt common to her when she knows herself beloved and admired, and has no meaning that can flatter my foolish hopes." This is how I had reasoned with myself again and again during the dreary interval in which Miss Halliday and I had been separated. But, O, what a hardy perennial blossom hope must be! The tender buds were not to be crushed by the pelting hailstones of hard common sense. They had survived all my philosophical reflections, and burst into sudden flower to-day at sight of Charlotte's face. She loved me, and she was delighted to see me. That was what her radiant face told me; and could I do less than believe the sweet confession? For the first few moments we could scarcely speak to each other, and then we began to converse in the usual commonplace strain.
She told me of her astonishment on seeing me in that remote spot. I could hardly confess to having business at Huxter's Cross, so I was fain to tell my dear love a falsehood, and declare that I was taking a holiday "up at the hills."
"And how did you come to choose Huxter's Cross for your holiday?" she asked naively.
I told her that I had heard the place spoken of by a person in the city—my simple-minded Sparsfield to wit.
"And you could not have come to a better place," she cried, "though people do call it the very dullest spot in the world. This was my dear aunt Mary's house—papa's sister, you know. Grandpapa Halliday had two farms. This was one, and Hyley the other. Hyley was much larger and better than this, you know, and was left to poor papa, who sold it just before he died."
Her face clouded as she spoke of her father's death. "I can't speak about that without pain even now," she said softly, "though I was only nine years old when it happened. But one can suffer a great deal at nine years old."
And then, after a little pause, she went on to speak of her Yorkshire home.
"My aunt and uncle Mercer are so kind to me; and yet they are neither of them really related to me. My aunt Mary died very young, when her first baby was born, and the poor little baby died too: and uncle Mercer inherited the property from his wife, you see. He married again after two years, and his second wife is the dearest, kindest creature in the world. I always call her aunt, for I don't remember poor papa's sister at all; and no aunt that ever lived could be kinder to me than aunt Dorothy. I am always so happy here," she said; "and it seems such a treat to get away from the Lawn—of course I am sorry to leave mamma, you know," she added, parenthetically—"and the stiff breakfasts, and Mr. Sheldon's newspapers that crackle, crackle, crackle so shockingly all breakfast-time; and the stiff dinners, with a prim parlor-maid staring at one all the time, and bringing one vegetables that one doesn't want if one only ventures to breathe a little louder than usual. Here it is Liberty Hall. Uncle Joe—he is aunt Dorothy's husband—is the kindest creature in the world, just the very reverse of Mr. Sheldon in everything. I don't mean that my stepfather is unkind, you know. O, no, he has always been very good to me—much kinder than I have deserved that he should be. But uncle Joe's ways are so different. I am sure you will like him; and I am sure he will like you, for he likes everybody, dear thing. And you must come and see us very often, please, for Newhall farm is open house, you know, and the stranger within the gates is always welcome."
Now my duty to my Sheldon demanded that I should scamper back to Huxter's Cross as fast as my legs would carry me, in order to be in time for the hybrid vehicle that was to convey me to Hidling station; and here was this dear girl inviting me to linger, and promising me a welcome to the house which was made a paradise by her presence.
I looked at my watch. It would have been impossible for me to reach Huxter's Cross in time for the vehicle. Conscience whispered that I could hire my landlord's dog-cart, and a boy to drive me to Hidling; but the whispers of conscience are very faint; and love cried aloud, "Stay with Charlotte: supreme happiness is offered to you for the first time in your life. Fool that would reject so rare a gift!"
It was to this latter counsellor I gave my ear. My Sheldon's interests went overboard; and I stayed by the white gate, talking to Charlotte, till it was quite too late to heed the reproachful grumblings of conscience about that dog-cart.
My Charlotte—yes, I boldly call her mine now—my dear is great in agriculture. She enlightened my cockney mind on the subject of upland farms, telling me how uncle and aunt Mercer's land is poor and sandy, requiring very little in the way of draining, but producing by no means luxuriant crops. It is a very picturesque place, and has a certain gentlemanlike air with it pleasing to my snobbish taste. The house lies in a tract of open grass-land, dotted here and there by trees, and altogether of a park-like appearance. True that the mild and useful sheep rather than the stately stag browses on that greensward, and few carriages roll along the winding gravel road that leads to the house.
I felt a rapturous thirst for agricultural knowledge as I listened to my Charlotte. Was there a vacancy for hind or herdsman on Newhall farm, I wondered. What is the office so humble I would not fill for her dear sake? O, how I sighed for the days of Jacob, that first distinguished usurer, so that I might serve seven years and again seven years for my darling!
I stayed by the white gate, abandoning all thought of my employer's behests, unconscious of time—unconscious of everything except that I was with Charlotte Halliday, and would not have resigned my position to be made Lord Chancellor of England.
Anon came uncle Joe, with a pleasant rubicund visage beaming under a felt hat, to tell Lotta that dinner was ready. To him I was immediately presented.
"Mr. Mercer, my dear uncle Joseph—Mr. Hawkehurst, a friend of my stepfather's," said Charlotte.
Two or three minutes afterwards we were all three walking across the park-like sward to the hospitable farm-house; for the idea of my departing before dinner seemed utterly preposterous to this friendly farmer.
Considered apart from the glamour that for my eyes must needs shine over any dwelling inhabited by Charlotte Halliday, I will venture to say that Newhall farm-house is the dearest old place in the world. Such delightful old rooms, with the deepest window-seats, the highest mantelpieces, the widest fireplaces possible in domestic architecture; such mysterious closets and uncanny passages; such pitfalls in the way of unexpected flights of stairs; such antiquated glazed corner-cupboards for the display of old china!—everything redolent of the past.
In one corner a spinning-wheel, so old that its spindle might be the identical weapon that pierced Princess Sleeping Beauty's soft white hand; in another corner an arm-chair that must have been old-fashioned in the days of Queen Anne; and O, what ancient flowered chintzes, what capacious sofas, what darling mahogany secretaries and bureaus, with gleaming brazen adornments in the way of handles!—and about everything the odour of rose-leaves and lavender.
I have grown familiar with every corner of the dear old place within the last few days, but on this first day I had only a general impression of its antiquated aspect and homely comfort. I stayed to dine at the same unpretending board at which my Charlotte had sat years ago, elevated on a high chair, and as yet new to the use of knives and forks. Uncle Joe and aunt Dorothy told me this in their pleasant friendly way; while the young lady sat by, blushing and dimpling like a summer sea beneath the rosy flush of sunrise. No words can relate how delightful it was to me to hear them talk of my dear love's childhood; they dwelt so tenderly upon her sweetness, they dilated with such enthusiasm upon her "pretty ways." Her "pretty ways!" ah, how fatal a thing it is for mankind when Nature endows woman with those pretty ways! From the thrall of Grecian noses and Castilian eyes there may be hope of deliverance, but from the spell of that indescribable witchery there is none.
I whistled my Sheldon down the wind without remorse, and allowed myself to be as happy as if I had been the squire of valley and hillside, with ten thousand a year to offer my Charlotte with the heart that loves her so fondly. I have no idea what we had for dinner. I know only that the fare was plenteous, and the hospitality of my new friends unbounded. We were very much at ease with one another, and our laughter rang up to the stalwart beams that sustained the old ceiling. If I had possessed the smallest fragment of my heart, I should have delivered it over without hesitation to my aunt Dorothy—pardon!—my Charlotte's aunt Dorothy, who is the cheeriest, brightest, kindest matron I ever met, with a sweet unworldly spirit that beams out of her candid blue eyes.
Charlotte seems to have been tenderly attached to her father the poor fellow who died in Philip Sheldon's house—uncomfortable for Sheldon, I should think. The Mercers talk a good deal of Thomas Halliday, for whom they appear to have entertained a very warm affection. They also spoke with considerable kindness of the two Sheldons, whom they knew as young men in the town of Barlingford; but I should not imagine either uncle Joseph or aunt Dorothy very well able to fathom the still waters of the Sheldon intellect.
After dinner uncle Joe took us round the farm. The last stack of corn had been thatched, and there was a peaceful lull in the agricultural world. We went into a quadrangle lined with poultry sheds, where I saw more of the feathered race than I had ever in my life beheld congregated together; thence to the inspection of pigs—and it was agreeable to inspect even those vulgar querulous grunters, with Charlotte by my side. Her brightness shed a light on all those common objects; and O, how I longed to be a farmer, like uncle Mercer, and devote my life to Charlotte and agriculture!
When uncle Joe had done the honours of his farm-yards and threshing-machinery, he left us to attend to his afternoon duties; and we wandered together over the breezy upland at our own sweet wills, or at her sweet will rather, since what could I do but follow where she pleased to lead?
We talked of many things: of the father whom she had loved so dearly, whose memory was still so mournfully dear to her; of her old home at Hyley; of her visits to these dear Mercers; of her schooldays, and her new unloved home in the smart Bayswater villa. She confided in me as she had never done before; and when we turned in the chill autumn gloaming, I had told her of my love, and had won from her the sweet confession of its return.
I have never known happiness so perfect as that which I felt as we walked home together—home—yes; that old farm-house must be my home as well as hers henceforward; for any habitation which she loved must be a kind of home for me. Sober reflection tells me how reckless and imprudent my whole conduct has been in this business; but when did ever love and prudence go hand-in-hand? We were children, Charlotte and I, on that blessed afternoon; and we told each other our love as children might have told it, without thought of the future. We have both grown wiser since that time, and are quite agreed as to our imprudence and foolishness; but, though we endeavour to contemplate the future in the most serious manner, we are too happy in the present to be able to analyse the difficulties and dangers that lie in our pathway.
Surely there must be a providence for imprudent lovers.
The November dews fell thick, and the November air was chill, as we walked back to the homestead. I was sorry that there should be that creeping dampness in the atmosphere that night. It seemed out of harmony with the new warmth in my heart. I pressed my darling's little hand closer to my breast, and had no more consciousness of any impediments to my future bliss than of the ground on which I walked—and that seemed air.
We found our chairs waiting for us at aunt Dorothy's tea-table; and I enjoyed that aldermanic banquet, a Yorkshire tea, under circumstances that elevated it to an Olympian repast.
I thought of the Comic Latin Grammar:
"Musa, musae, the gods were at tea; Musae musam, eating raspberry jam."
I was Jove, and my love was Juno. I looked at her athwart the misty clouds that issued from the hissing urn, and saw her beautified by a heightened bloom, and with a sweet, shy conscious look in her eyes which made her indeed divine.
After tea we played whist; and I am bound to confess that my divinity played execrably, persistently disdaining to return her partner's lead, and putting mean little trumps upon her adversary's tricks, with a fatuous economy of resources which is always ruin.
I stayed till ten o'clock, reckless of the unknown country which separated me from the Magpie, and then walked home alone, under the faint starlight, though my friendly host would fain have lent me a dog-cart. The good people here lend one another dog-carts as freely as a cockney offers his umbrella. I went back to Huxter's Cross alone, and the long solitary walk was very pleasant to me.
Looking up at the stars as I tramped homeward, I could but remember an old epigram:—
Were you the earth, dear love, and I the skies, My love should shine on you like to the sun, And look upon you with ten thousand eyes, Till heaven wax'd blind, and till the world were done.
I had ample leisure for reflection during that long night-walk, and found myself becoming a perfect Young—Hervey—Sturm—what you will, in the way of meditation. I could not choose but wonder at myself when I looked back to this time last year, and remembered my idle evenings in third-rate cafes, on the rive gauche, playing dominoes, talking the foul slang of Parisian bohemia, and poisoning my system with adulterated absinthe. And now I feast upon sweet cakes and honey, and think it paradisiac enjoyment to play whist—for love—in a farm-house parlour. I am younger by ten years than I was twelve months ago.
Ah, let me thank God, who has sent me my redemption.
I lifted my hat, and pronounced the thanksgiving softly under that tranquil sky. I was almost ashamed to hear the sound of my own voice. I was like some shy child who for the first time speaks his father's name.
TOO FAIR TO LAST.
In my confidences with my dear girl I had told her neither the nature of my mission in Yorkshire, nor the fact that I was bound to leave Huxter's Cross immediately upon an exploring expedition to nowhere in particular, in search of the archives of the Meynells. How could I bring myself to tell her that I must leave her?—how much less could I bring myself to do it?
Rendered desperately unmindful of the universe by reason of my all-absorbing happiness, I determined on giving myself a holiday boldly, in defiance of Sheldon and the Sheldonian interests.
"Am I a bounden slave?" I asked myself, "that I should go here or there at any man's bidding, for the pitiful stipend of twenty shillings a week?"
It is to be observed that the rate of hire makes all the difference in these cases; and while it is ignominious for a lawyer's clerk to hasten to and fro in the earning of his weekly wage, it is in no way dishonourable for the minister of state to obey the call of his chief, and hurry hither and thither in abnegation of all his own predilections, and to the aggravation of his chronic gout.
I wrote to my Sheldon, and told him that I had met with friends in the neighbourhood of Huxter's Cross, and that I intended to give myself a brief holiday; after which I would resume my labours, and do my uttermost to make up for wasted time. I had still the remnant of my borrowed thirty pounds, and amongst these northern hills I felt myself a millionaire.
Three thousand pounds at five per cent—one hundred and fifty pounds a year. I felt that with such an income assured to us, and the fruits of my industry, Charlotte and I might be secure from all the storms of life. Ah, what happiness it would be to work for her! And I am not too old to begin life afresh; not too old for the bar; not too old to make some mark as a writer on the press; not too old to become a respectable member of society.
After having despatched my letter to Sheldon, I made off for Newhall farm with all speed. I had received a sort of general invitation from the kindest of uncles and aunts, but I contrived with becoming modesty to arrive after Mr. Mercer's dinner-hour. I found Charlotte alone in the dear old-fashioned parlour, aunt Dorothy being engaged in some domestic operations in the kitchen, and uncle Joseph making his usual after-dinner rounds amongst the pig-styes and the threshing-machines. I discovered afterwards that it was Miss Halliday's wont to accompany her kind kinsman in this afternoon investigation; but to-day she had complained of a headache and preferred to stay at home. Yet there were few symptoms of the headache when I found her standing in the bow-window, watching the path by which I came, and the face of Aurora herself could scarcely be brighter or fresher than my darling's innocent blushes when I greeted her with the privileged kiss of betrothal.
We sat in the bow-window talking till the twilight shadows crept over the greensward, and the sheep were led away to their fold, with cheerful jingling of bells and barking of watchful dog. My dearest girl told me that our secret had already been discovered by the penetrating eyes of aunt Dorothy and uncle Joseph. They had teased her unmercifully, it seemed, all that day, but were graciously pleased to smile upon my suit, like a pair of imprudent Arcadians as they are.
"They like you very much indeed," my Lotta said joyously; "but I believe they think I have known you much longer than I really have, and that you are very intimate with my stepfather. It seems almost like deceiving them to allow them to think so, but I really haven't the courage to tell the truth. How foolish and bold they would think me if they knew how very short a time I have known you!"
"Twenty times longer than Juliet had known Romeo when they met in the Friar's cell to be married," I urged.
"Yes, but that was in a play," replied Charlotte, "where everything is obliged to be hurried; and at Hyde Lodge we all of us thought that Juliet was a very forward young person."
"The poets all believe in love at first sight, and I'll wager our dear uncle Joe fell over head and ears in love with aunt Dorothy after having danced with her two or three times at an assize ball," said I. After this we became intensely serious, and I told my darling girl that I hoped very soon to be in possession of a small fixed income, and to have begun a professional career. I told her how dear an incentive to work she had given me, and how little fear I had for the future.
I reminded her that Mr. Sheldon had no legal power to control her actions, and that, as her father's will had left her entirely to her mother's guardianship, she had only her mother's pleasure to consult.
"I believe poor mamma would let me marry a crossing-sweeper, if I cried and declared it would make me miserable not to marry him," said Charlotte; "but then, you see, mamma's wishes mean Mr. Sheldon's wishes; she is sure to think whatever he tells her to think; and if he is strongly against our marriage—"
"As I am sure he will be," I interjected.
"He will work upon poor mamma in that calm, persistent, logical way of his till he makes her as much against it as himself."
"But even your mamma has no legal power to control your actions, my love. Were you not of age on your last birthday?"
My darling replied in the affirmative.
"Then of course you are free to marry whom you please; and as I am thankful to say you don't possess a single sixpence in your own right, there need be no fuss about settlements or pin-money. We can marry any fine morning that my dear girl pleases to name, and defy all the stern stepfathers in creation."
"How I wish I had a fortune, for your sake!" she said with a sigh.
"Be glad for my sake that you have none," I answered. "You cannot imagine the miserable complications and perplexities which arise in this world from the possession of money. No slave so tightly bound as the man who has what people call 'a stake in the country' and a balance at his banker's. The true monarch of all he surveys is the penniless reprobate who walks down Fleet-street with his whole estate covered by the seedy hat upon his head."
Having thus moralized, I proceeded to ask Miss Halliday if she was prepared to accept a humbler station than that enjoyed by her at the Lawn.
"No useful landau, to be an open carriage at noon and a family coach at night," I said; "no nimble page to skip hither and thither at his fair lady's commands, if not belated on the way by the excitement of tossing halfpence with youthful adventurers of the byways and alleys; no trim parlour-maids, with irreproachable caps, dressed for the day at 11 o'clock A.M.—but instead of these, a humble six-roomed bandbox of a house, and one poor hardworking slavey, with perennial smudges from saucepan-lids upon her honest pug-nose. Consider the prospect seriously, Charlotte, and ask yourself whether you can endure such a descent in the social scale."
My Charlotte laughed, as if the prospect had been the most delightful picture ever presented to mortal vision.
"Do you think I care for the landau or the page?" she cried. "If it were not for mamma's sake, I should detest that prim villa and all its arrangements. You see me so happy here, where there is no pretence of grandeur—"
"But I am bound to warn you that I shall not be able to provide Yorkshire teas at the commencement of our domestic career," I remarked, by way of parenthesis.
"Aunt Dorothy will send us hampers of poultry and cakes, sir, and for the rest of our time we can live upon bread and water."
On this I promised my betrothed a house in Cavendish or Portman-square, and a better-built landau than Mr. Sheldon's, in the remote future. With those dear eyes for my pole-stars, I felt myself strong enough to clamber up the slippery ascent to the woolsack. The best and purest ambition must surely be that which is only a synonym for love.
After we had sat talking in the gloaming to our hearts' content, aunt Dorothy appeared, followed by a sturdy handmaid with lighted candles, and a still sturdier handmaid with a ponderous tea-tray. The two made haste to spread a snow-white cloth, and to set forth the species of banquet which it is the fashion nowadays to call high tea. Anon came uncle Joseph, bringing with him some slight perfume from the piggeries, and he and aunt Dorothy were pleased to be pleasantly facetious and congratulatory in their conversation during the social meal which followed their advent.
After tea we played whist again, aunt Dorothy and I obtaining a succession of easy victories over Charlotte and uncle Joe. I felt myself hourly more and more completely at home in that simple domestic circle, and enjoyed the proud position of an accepted lover. My Arcadian friends troubled themselves in nowise as to the approval or disapproval of Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon, or with regard either to my prospects or my antecedents. They saw me devoted to my dear girl, they saw my dearest pleased by my devotion, and they loved her so well that they were ready to open their hearts without reserve to the man who adored her and was loved by her, let him be rich or poor, noble or base-born. As they would have given her the wax-doll of her desire ten or twelve years ago without question as to price or fitness of things, so they now gave her their kindly smiles and approval for the lover of her choice. "I know Phil Sheldon is a man who looks to the main chance," said uncle Joe, in the course of a discussion about his niece's future which dyed her cheeks with blushes in the present; "and I'll lay you'll find him rather a difficult customer to deal with, especially as poor Tom's will left all the money in Georgy's hands, which of course is tantamount to saying that Sheldon has got the disposal of it."
I assured uncle Joe that money was the very last thing which I desired.
"Then in that case I don't see why he shouldn't let you have Charlotte," replied Mr. Mercer; "and if she's cheated out of her poor dad's money, she shan't be cheated out of what her old aunt and uncle may have to leave her by-and-by."
Here were these worthy people promising me an heiress with no more compunction than if they had been offering me a cup of tea.
I walked homeward once more beneath the quiet stars. O, how happy I was! Can happiness so perfect, joy so sinless, endure? I, the friendless wanderer and penniless Bohemian, asked myself this question; and again I paused upon the lonely moorland road to lift my hat as I thanked God for having given me such bright hopes.
But George Sheldon's three thousand pounds must be mine before I can secure the humblest shelter for my sweet one; and although it would be bliss to me to tramp through the world barefoot with Charlotte by my side, the barefooted state of things is scarcely the sort of prospect a man would care to offer to the woman he loves. So once more to the chase. One more day in this delicious island of the lotus-eaters, Newhall farm; and then away!—hark forward!—tantivy!—and hey for the marriage-lines of Charlotte Meynell, great-granddaughter of Matthew Haygarth, and, if still in the flesh, rightful heiress to the one hundred thousand pounds at present likely to be absorbed by the ravening jaws of the Crown! One more day, one more delightful idle day, in the land where it is always afternoon, and then away to Hidling in the hybrid vehicle, and thence to Hull, from Hull to York, from York to Leeds, then Bradford, Huddersfield—toute la boutique!
The rain beats against the diamond panes of my casement as I write. The day has been hopelessly wet, so I have stayed in my snug little chamber and occupied myself in writing this record. Foul wind or weather would have little power to keep me from my darling; but even if it had been a fine day, I could not with any grace have presented myself at Newhall farm for a third afternoon. To-morrow my immediate departure will afford me an excuse for presenting myself once more before my kind uncle and aunt. It will be my farewell visit. I wonder whether Charlotte will miss me this afternoon. I wonder whether she will be sorry when I tell her that I am going to leave this part of the country. Ah, shall we ever meet again under such happy auspices? Shall I ever again find such kind friends or such a hospitable dwelling as those I shall leave amidst these northern hills?
FOUND IN THE BIBLE.
November 3d. The most wonderful event has befallen—surely the most wonderful that ever came to pass outside the realms of fiction. Let me set down the circumstances of yesterday coolly and quietly if I can. I invoke the placid spirit of my Sheldon. I invoke all the divinities of Gray's Inn and "The Fields." Let me be legal and specific, perspicacious and logical—if this beating heart, this fevered brain, will allow me a few hours' respite.
The autumn sunshine blessed the land again yesterday. Moorland and meadow, fallow and clover-field, were all the brighter for the steady downfall of the previous day. I walked to Newhall directly after breakfast, and found my dearest standing at the white five-barred gate, dressed in her pretty blue jacket, and with ribbons in her bonny brown hair.
She was pleased to see me, though at first just a little inclined to play the boudeuse on account of my absence on the previous day. Of course I assured her that it had been anguish for me to remain away from her, and quoted that divine sonnet of our William's to the like effect:
"How like a winter hath my absence been!"
"O, never say that I was false of heart, Though absence seemed my flame to qualify."
Equally of course my pet pretended not to believe me. After this little misunderstanding we forgave each other, and adored each other again with just a little more than usual devotion; and then we went for a long ramble among the fields, and looked at the dear placid sheep, who stared at us wonderingly in return, as if exclaiming to themselves, "And these are a specimen couple of the creatures called lovers!"
We met uncle Joe in the course of our wanderings, and returned with him in time for the vulgar superstition of dinner, which we might have forgotten had we been left by ourselves. After dinner uncle Joe made off to his piggeries; while aunt Dorothy fell asleep in a capacious old arm-chair by the fire, after making an apologetic remark to the effect that she was tired, and had been a good deal "tewed" that morning in the dairy. "Tewed," I understand, is Yorkshire for "worried."
Aunt Dorothy having departed into the shadowy realm of dreams, Charlotte and I were left to our own devices.
There was a backgammon board on a side-table, surmounted by an old Indian bowl of dried rose-leaves; and, pour nous distraire, I proposed that I should teach my dearest that diverting game. She assented, and we set to work in a very business-like manner, Miss Halliday all attention, I serious as a professional schoolmaster.
Unfortunately for my pupil's progress, the game of backgammon proved less entertaining than our own conversation, so, after a very feeble attempt on the one side to learn and on the other to teach, we closed the board and began to talk;—first of the past, then of the future, the happy future, which we were to share.
There is no need that I should set down this lovers' talk. Is it not written on my heart? The future seemed so fair and unclouded to me, as my love and I sat talking together yesterday afternoon. Now all is changed. The strangest, the most surprising complications have arisen; and I doubt, I fear.
After we had talked for a long time, Miss Halliday suddenly proposed that I should read to her.
"Diana once told me that you read very beautifully," said this flatterer; "and I should so like to hear you read—poetry of course. You will find plenty of poems in that old bookcase—Cowper, and Bloomfield, and Pope. Now I am sure that Pope is just the kind of poet whose verses you would read magnificently. Shall we explore the bookcase together?"
Now if there is any manner of beguiling an idle afternoon, which seems to me most delightful, it is by the exploration of old bookcases; and when that delight can be shared by the woman one fondly loves, the pleasure thereof must be of course multiplied to an indefinite amount.
So Charlotte and I set to work immediately to ransack the lower shelves of the old-fashioned mahogany bookcase, which contained the entire library of the Mercer household.
I am bound to admit that we did not light upon many volumes of thrilling interest. The verses of Cowper, like those of Southey, have always appeared to me to have only one fault—there are too many of them. One shrinks appalled from that thick closely-printed volume of morality cut into lengths of ten feet; and beyond the few well-worn quotations in daily use, I am fain to confess that I am almost a stranger to the bard of Olney.
Half a dozen odd volumes of the Gentleman's Magazine, three or four of the Annual Register, a neatly-bound edition of Clarissa Harlowe and Sir Charles Grandison in twelve volumes, Law's Holy Call to a Serious Life, Paradise Lost, Joseph Andrews, Hervey's Meditations, and Gulliver's Travels, formed the varied contents of the principal shelves. Above, there were shabbily-bound volumes and unbound pamphlets. Below, there were folios, the tops whereof were thickly covered with the dust of ages, having escaped the care of the handmaidens even in that neatly-appointed household.
I knelt down to examine these.
"You'll be covered with dust if you touch them," cried Charlotte. "I was once curious enough to examine them, but the result was very disappointing."
"And yet they look so delightfully mysterious," I said. "This one, for instance?"
"That is an old history of London, with curious plates and maps; rather interesting if one has nothing more amusing to read. But the perennial supply of novels from Mudie's spoils one for that kind of book."
"If ever I come to Newhall again, I shall dip into the old history. One is never tired of dead and gone London. But after Mr. Knight's delightful book any old history must seem very poor. What is my burly friend here?"
"O, a dreadful veterinary-surgeon's encyclopaedia—The Farmer's Friend I think it is called; all about the ailments of animals."
"And the next?"
"The next is an odd volume of the Penny Magazine. Dear aunt Dorothy is rich in odd volumes."
"And the next,—my bulky friend number two,—with a cracked leather back and a general tendency to decay?"
"O, that is the Meynell Bible."
The MEYNELL BIBLE! A hot perspiration broke out upon my face as I knelt at Charlotte Halliday's feet, with my hand resting lightly on the top of the book.
"The Meynell Bible!" I repeated; and my voice was faintly tremulous, in spite of the effort I made to control myself. "What do you mean by the Meynell Bible?"
"I mean the old family Bible that belonged to my grand-mamma. It was her father's Bible, you know; and of course he was my great-grandfather—Christian Meynell. Why, how you stare at me, Valentine! Is there anything so wonderful in my having had a great-grandfather?"
"No, darling; but the fact is that I—"
In another moment I should have told her the entire truth; but I remembered just in time that I had pledged myself to profound secrecy with regard to the nature and progress of my investigation, and I had yet to learn whether that pledge did or did not involve the observance of secrecy even with those most interested in my researches. Pending further communication with Sheldon, I was certainly bound to be silent.
"I have a kind of interest in the name of Meynell," I said, "for I was once engaged in a business matter with people of that name."
And having thus hoodwinked my beloved with a bouncer, I proceeded to extract the Bible from its shelf. The book was so tightly wedged into its place, that to remove it was like drawing a tooth. It was a noble-looking old volume, blue with the mould of ages, and redolent of a chill dampness like the atmosphere of a tomb.
"I should so like to examine the old book when the candles come in," I said.
Fortunately for the maintenance of my secret, the darkness was closing in upon us when I discovered the volume, and the room was only fitfully illuminated by the flame that brightened and faded every minute.
I carried the book to a side-table, and Charlotte and I resumed our talk until the candles came, and close behind them uncle Joe. I fear I must have seemed a very inattentive lover during that brief interval, for I could not concentrate my thoughts upon the subject of our discourse. My mind would wander to the strange discovery that I had just made, and I could not refrain from asking myself whether by any extraordinary chance my own dear love should be the rightful claimant to John Haygarth's hoarded wealth.
I hoped that it might not be so. I hoped that my darling might be penniless rather than the heir to wealth, which, in all likelihood, would create an obstacle strong enough to sever us eternally. I longed to question her about her family, but could not as yet trust myself to broach the subject. And while I doubted and hesitated, honest blustering uncle Joe burst into the room, and aunt Dorothy awoke, and was unutterably surprised to find she had slept so long.
After this came tea; and as I sat opposite my dearest girl I could not choose but remember that gray-eyed Molly, whose miniature had been found in the tulip-wood bureau, and in whose bright face I had seen the likeness of Philip Sheldon's beautiful stepdaughter. And Mr. Sheldon's lovely stepdaughter was the lineal descendant of this very Molly. Strange mystery of transmitted resemblances! Here was the sweet face that had bewitched honest, simple-minded Matthew Haygarth reproduced after the lapse of a century.
My Charlotte was descended from a poor little player girl who had smiled on the roisterous populace of Bartholomew Fair. Some few drops of Bohemian blood mingled with the pure life-stream in her veins. It pleased me to think of this; but I derived no pleasure from the idea that Charlotte might possibly be the claimant of a great fortune.
"She may have cousins who would stand before her," I said to myself; and there was some comfort in the thought.
After tea I asked permission to inspect the old family Bible, much to the astonishment of uncle Joe, who had no sympathy with antiquarian tastes, and marvelled that I should take any interest in so mouldy a volume. I told him, with perfect truth, that such things had always more or less interest for me; and then I withdrew to my little table, where I was provided with a special pair of candles.
"You'll find the births and deaths of all poor Molly's ancestors on the first leaf," said uncle Joe. "Old Christian Meynell was a rare one for jotting down such things; but the ink has gone so pale that it's about as much as you'll do to make sense of it, I'll lay."
Charlotte looked over my shoulder as I examined the fly-leaf of the family Bible. Even with this incentive to distraction I contrived to be tolerably business-like; and this is the record which I found on the faded page:
"Samuel Matthew Meynell, son of Christian and Sarah Meynell, b. March 9, 1796, baptised at St. Giles's, Cripplegate, in this city.
"Susan Meynell, daughter of Christian and Sarah Meynell, b. June 29, 1798, also baptised in the same church.
"Charlotte Meynell, second daughter of the above Christian and Sarah, b. October 3, 1800, baptised at the above-mentioned church of St. Giles, London."
Below these entries, in blacker ink and in a different hand-writing—a bold, business-like, masculine caligraphy—came the following:
"Charlotte Meynell married to James Halliday, in the parish church of Barngrave, Yorks. April 15, 1819.
"Thomas Halliday, son of the above James and Charlotte Halliday, b. Jan. 3d, 1821, baptised in the parish church of Barngrave, Feb. 20 in the same year.
"Mary Halliday, daughter of the above-named James and Charlotte Halliday, b. May 27th, 1823, baptised at Barngrave, July 1st in the same year."
Below this there was an entry in a woman's penmanship:
"Susan, the beloved sister of C. H., died in London, July 11, 1835.
"Judge not, that ye be not judged.
"I came to call sinners, and not the righteous, to repentance."
This record seemed to hint vaguely at some sad story: "Susan, the beloved sister;" no precise data of the death—no surname! And then those two deprecating sentences, which seemed to plead for the dead.
I had been led to understand that Christian Meynell's daughters had both died in Yorkshire—one married, the other unmarried.
The last record in the book was the decease of James Halliday, my dear girl's grandfather.
After pondering long over the strangely-worded entry of Susan Meynell's death, I reflected that, with the aid of those mysterious powers Hook and Crook, I must contrive to possess myself of an exact copy of this leaf from a family history, if not of the original document. Again my duty to my Sheldon impelled me to be false to all my new-born instincts, and boldly give utterance to another bouncer.
"I am very much interested in a county history now preparing for the press," I said to my honoured uncle, who was engaged in a hand at cribbage with his wife; "and I really think this old leaf from a family Bible would make a very interesting page in that work."
I blushed for myself as I felt how shamefully I was imposing upon my newly-found kinsman's credulity. With scarcely any one but uncle Joe could I have dared to employ so shallow an artifice.
"Would it really, now?" said that confiding innocent.
"Well, I suppose old papers, and letters, and such like, are uncommonly interesting to some folks. I can't say I care much about 'em myself."
"Would you have any objection to my taking a copy of these entries?" I asked.
"My word, no, lad; not I. Take half a dozen copies, and welcome, if they can be of any use to you or other people. That's not much to ask for."
I thanked my simple host, and determined to write to a stationer at Hull for some tracing-paper by the first post next morning. There was some happiness, at least, in having found this unlooked-for end to my researches. I had a good excuse for remaining longer near Charlotte Halliday.
"It's only for my poor Mary's sake I set any value on that old volume," the farmer said, presently, in a meditative tone. "You see the names there are the names of her relations, not mine; and this place and all in it was hers. Dorothy and I are only interlopers, as you may say, at the best, though I brought my fortune to the old farm, and Dorothy brought her fortune, and between us we've made Newhall a much better place than it was in old James Halliday's time. But there's something sad in the thought that none of those that were born on the land have left chick or child to inherit it." Uncle Joseph fell for a while into a pensive reverie, and I thought of that other inheritance, well-nigh fifty times the value of Newhall farm, which is now waiting for a claimant. And again I asked myself, Could it be possible that this sweet girl, whose changeful face had saddened with those old memories, whose innocent heart knew not one sordid desire—could it be indeed she whose fair hand was to wrest the Haygarthian gold from the grip of Crown lawyers?
The sight of that old Bible seemed to have revived Mr. Mercer's memory of his first wife with unwonted freshness.
"She was a sweet young creature," he said; "the living picture of our Lottie, and sometimes I fancy it must have been that which made me take to Lottie when she was a little one. I used to see my first wife's eyes looking up at me out of Lottie's eyes. I told Tom it was a comfort to me to have the little lass with me, and that's how they let her come over so often from Hyley. Poor old Tom used to bring her over in his Whitechapel cart, and leave her behind him for a week or so at a stretch. And then, when my Dorothy, yonder, took pity upon a poor lonely widower, she made as much of the little girl as if she'd been her own, and more, perhaps; for, not having any children of her own, she thought them such out-of-the-way creatures, that you couldn't coddle them and pet them too much. There's a little baby lies buried in Barngrave churchyard with Tom Halliday's sister that would have been a noble young man, sitting where you're sitting, Mr. Hawkehurst, and looking at me as bright as you're looking, perhaps, if the Lord's will hadn't been otherwise. We've all our troubles, you see, and that was mine; and if it hadn't been for Dorothy, life would not have been worth much for me after that time—but my Dorothy is all manner of blessings rolled up in one."
The farmer looked fondly at his second wife as he said this, and she blushed and smiled upon him with responsive tenderness. I fancy a woman's blushes and smiles wear longer in these calm solitudes than amid the tumult and clamour of a great city.
Finding my host inclined to dwell upon the past, I ventured to hazard an indirect endeavour to obtain some information respecting that entry in the Bible which had excited my curiosity.
"Miss Susan Meynell died unmarried, I believe?" I said. "I see her death recorded here, but she is described by her Christian name only."
"Ah, very like," replied Mr. Mercer, with an air of indifference, which I perceived to be assumed. "Yes, my poor Molly's aunt Susan died unmarried."
"And in London? I had been given to understand that she died in Yorkshire."
I blushed for my own impertinence as I pressed this inquiry. What right had I to be given to understand anything about these honest Meynells? I saw poor uncle Joe's disconcerted face, and I felt that the hunter of an heir-at-law is apt to become a very obnoxious creature.
"Susan Meynell died in London—the poor lass died in London," replied Joseph Mercer, gravely; "and now we'll drop that subject, if you please, my lad. It isn't a pleasant one."
After this I could no longer doubt that there was some painful story involved in those two deprecating sentences of the gospel.
It was some time before uncle Joe was quite his own jovial and rather noisy self again, and on this evening we had no whist. I bade my friends good night a little earlier than usual, and departed, after having obtained permission to take a tracing of the fly-leaf as soon as possible.
On this night the starlit sky and lonesome moor seemed to have lost their soothing power. There was a new fever in my mind. The simple plan of the future which I had mapped out for myself was suddenly shattered. The Charlotte of to-night—heiress-at-law to an enormous fortune—ward in Chancery—claimant against the Crown—was a very different person from the simple maid "whom there were none"—or only a doating simpleton in the person of the present writer—"to praise, and very few to love."
The night before last I had hoped so much; to-night hope had forsaken me. It seemed as if a Titan's hand had dug a great pit between me and the woman I loved—a pit as deep as the grave.
Philip Sheldon might have consented to give me his stepdaughter unpossessed of a sixpence; but would he give me his stepdaughter with a hundred thousand pounds for her fortune? Alas! no; I know the Sheldonian intellect too well to be fooled by any hope so wild and baseless. The one bright dream of my misused life faded from me in the hour in which I discovered my dearest girl's claim to the Haygarthian inheritance. But I am not going to throw up the sponge before the fight is over. Time enough to die when I am lying face downward in the ensanguined mire, and feel the hosts of the foemen trampling above my shattered carcass. I will live in the light of my Charlotte's smiles while I can, and for the rest—"Il ne faut pas dire, fontaine, je ne boirai pas de ton eau." There is no cup so bitter that a man dare say, I will not drain it to the very dregs. "What must be, shall be—that's a certain text;" and in the mean time carpe diem. I am all a Bohemian again.
Nov. 5th. After a day's delay I have obtained my tracing-paper, and made two tracings of the entries in the Meynell Bible, How intercourse with the Sheldonian race inclines one to the duplication of documents! I consider the copying-press of modern civilization the supreme incarnation of man's distrust of his fellow-men.
I spent this afternoon and evening with my dear love—my last evening in Yorkshire. To-morrow I shall see my Sheldon, and inform him of the very strange termination which has come to my researches. Will he communicate at once with his brother? Will he release me from my oath of secrecy? There is nothing of the masonic secretiveness in my organisation, and I am very weary of the seal that has been set upon my unwary lips. Will Charlotte be told that she is the reverend intestate's next of kin? These are questions which I ask myself as I sit in the stillness of my room at the Magpie, scribbling this wretched diary of mine, while the church clock booms three solemn strokes in the distance.