From Mr. Loscombe to Mrs. Noel Vanstone.
"Lincoln's Inn, November 15th.
"DEAR MADAM—In compliance with your request, I now proceed to communicate to you in writing what (but for the calamity which has so recently befallen you) I should have preferred communicating by word of mouth. Be pleased to consider this letter as strictly confidential between yourself and me.
"I inclose, as you desire, a copy of the Will executed by your late husband on the third of this month. There can be no question of the genuineness of the original document. I protested, as a matter of form, against Admiral Bartram's solicitor assuming a position of authority at Baliol Cottage. But he took the position, nevertheless; acting as legal representative of the sole Executor under the second Will. I am bound to say I should have done the same myself in his place.
"The serious question follows, What can we do for the best in your interests? The Will executed under my professional superintendence, on the thirtieth of September last, is at present superseded and revoked by the second and later Will, executed on the third of November. Can we dispute this document?
"I doubt the possibility of disputing the new Will on the face of it. It is no doubt irregularly expressed; but it is dated, signed, and witnessed as the law directs; and the perfectly simple and straightforward provisions that it contains are in no respect, that I can see, technically open to attack.
"This being the case, can we dispute the Will on the ground that it has been executed when the Testator was not in a fit state to dispose of his own property? or when the Testator was subjected to undue and improper influence?
"In the first of these cases, the medical evidence would put an obstacle in our way. We cannot assert that previous illness had weakened the Testator's mind. It is clear that he died suddenly, as the doctors had all along declared he would die, of disease of the heart. He was out walking in his garden, as usual, on the day of his death; he ate a hearty dinner; none of the persons in his service noticed any change in him; he was a little more irritable with them than usual, but that was all. It is impossible to attack the state of his faculties: there is no case to go into court with, so far.
"Can we declare that he acted under undue influence; or, in plainer terms, under the influence of Mrs. Lecount?
"There are serious difficulties, again, in the way of taking this course. We cannot assert, for example, that Mrs. Lecount has assumed a place in the will which she has no fair claim to occupy. She has cunningly limited her own legacy, not only to what is fairly due her, but to what the late Mr. Michael Vanstone himself had the intention of leaving her. If I were examined on the subject, I should be compelled to acknowledge that I had heard him express this intention myself. It is only the truth to say that I have heard him express it more than once. There is no point of attack in Mrs. Lecount's legacy, and there is no point of attack in your late husband's choice of an executor. He has made the wise choice, and the natural choice, of the oldest and trustiest friend he had in the world.
"One more consideration remains—the most important which I have yet approached, and therefore the consideration which I have reserved to the last. On the thirtieth of September, the Testator executes a will, leaving his widow sole executrix, with a legacy of eighty thousand pounds. On the third of November following, he expressly revokes this will, and leaves another in its stead, in which his widow is never once mentioned, and in which the whole residue of his estate, after payment of one comparatively trifling legacy, is left to a friend.
"It rests entirely with you to say whether any valid reason can or can not be produced to explain such an extraordinary proceeding as this. If no reason can be assigned—and I know of none myself—I think we have a point here which deserves our careful consideration; for it may be a point which is open to attack. Pray understand that I am now appealing to you solely as a lawyer, who is obliged to look all possible eventualities in the face. I have no wish to intrude on your private affairs; I have no wish to write a word which could be construed into any indirect reflection on yourself.
"If you tell me that, so far as you know, your husband capriciously struck you out of his will, without assignable reason or motive for doing so, and without other obvious explanation of his conduct than that he acted in this matter entirely under the influence of Mrs. Lecount, I will immediately take Counsel's opinion touching the propriety of disputing the will on this ground. If, on the other hand, you tell me that there are reasons (known to yourself, though unknown to me) for not taking the course I propose, I will accept that intimation without troubling you, unless you wish it, to explain yourself further. In this latter event, I will write to you again; for I shall then have something more to say, which may greatly surprise you, on the subject of the Will.
From Mrs. Noel Vanstone to Mr. Loscombe.
"DEAR SIR—Accept my best thanks for the kindness and consideration with which you have treated me; and let the anxieties under which I am now suffering plead my excuse, if I reply to your letter without ceremony, in the fewest possible words.
"I have my own reasons for not hesitating to answer your question in the negative. It is impossible for us to go to law, as you propose, on the subject of the Will.
"Believe me, dear sir, yours gratefully,
From Mr. Loscombe to Mrs. Noel Vanstone.
"Lincoln's Inn. November 17th.
"DEAR MADAM—I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, answering my proposal in the negative, for reasons of your own. Under these circumstances—on which I offer no comment—I beg to perform my promise of again communicating with you on the subject of your late husband's Will.
"Be so kind as to look at your copy of the document. You will find that the clause which devises the whole residue of your husband's estate to Admiral Bartram ends in these terms: to be by him applied to such uses as he may think fit.
"Simple as they may seem to you, these are very remarkable words. In the first place, no practical lawyer would have used them in drawing your husband's will. In the second place, they are utterly useless to serve any plain straightforward purpose. The legacy is left unconditionally to the admiral; and in the same breath he is told that he may do what he likes with it! The phrase points clearly to one of two conclusions. It has either dropped from the writer's pen in pure ignorance, or it has been carefully set where it appears to serve the purpose of a snare. I am firmly persuaded that the latter explanation is the right one. The words are expressly intended to mislead some person—yourself in all probability—and the cunning which has put them to that use is a cunning which (as constantly happens when uninstructed persons meddle with law) has overreached itself. My thirty years' experience reads those words in a sense exactly opposite to the sense which they are intended to convey. I say that Admiral Bartram is not free to apply his legacy to such purposes as he may think fit; I believe he is privately controlled by a supplementary document in the shape of a Secret Trust.
"I can easily explain to you what I mean by a Secret Trust. It is usually contained in the form of a letter from a Testator to his Executors, privately informing them of testamentary intentions on his part which he has not thought proper openly to acknowledge in his will. I leave you a hundred pounds; and I write a private letter enjoining you, on taking the legacy, not to devote it to your own purposes, but to give it to some third person, whose name I have my own reasons for not mentioning in my will. That is a Secret Trust.
"If I am right in my own persuasion that such a document as I here describe is at this moment in Admiral Bartram's possession—a persuasion based, in the first instance, on the extraordinary words that I have quoted to you; and, in the second instance, on purely legal considerations with which it is needless to incumber my letter—if I am right in this opinion, the discovery of the Secret Trust would be, in all probability, a most important discovery to your interests. I will not trouble you with technical reasons, or with references to my experience in these matters, which only a professional man could understand. I will merely say that I don't give up your cause as utterly lost, until the conviction now impressed on my own mind is proved to be wrong.
"I can add no more, while this important question still remains involved in doubt; neither can I suggest any means of solving that doubt. If the existence of the Trust was proved, and if the nature of the stipulations contained in it was made known to me, I could then say positively what the legal chances were of your being able to set up a Case on the strength of it: and I could also tell you whether I should or should not feel justified in personally undertaking that Case under a private arrangement with yourself.
"As things are, I can make no arrangement, and offer no advice. I can only put you confidentially in possession of my private opinion, leaving you entirely free to draw your own inferences from it, and regretting that I cannot write more confidently and more definitely than I have written here. All that I could conscientiously say on this very difficult and delicate subject, I have said.
"Believe me, dear madam, faithfully yours,
"P.S.—I omitted one consideration in my last letter, which I may mention here, in order to show you that no point in connection with the case has escaped me. If it had been possible to show that Mr. Vanstone was domiciled in Scotland at the time of his death, we might have asserted your interests by means of the Scotch law, which does not allow a husband the power of absolutely disinheriting his wife. But it is impossible to assert that Mr. Vanstone was legally domiciled in Scotland. He came there as a visitor only; he occupied a furnished house for the season; and he never expressed, either by word or deed, the slightest intention of settling permanently in the North."
From Mrs. Noel Vanstone to Mr. Loscombe.
"DEAR SIR—I have read your letter more than once, with the deepest interest and attention; and the oftener I read it, the more firmly I believe that there is really such a Letter as you mention in Admiral Bartram's hands.
"It is my interest that the discovery should be made, and I at once acknowledge to you that I am determined to find the means of secretly and certainly making it. My resolution rests on other motives than the motives which you might naturally suppose would influence me. I only tell you this, in case you feel inclined to remonstrate. There is good reason for what I say, when I assure you that remonstrance will be useless.
"I ask for no assistance in this matter; I will trouble nobody for advice. You shall not be involved in any rash proceedings on my part. Whatever danger there may be, I will risk it. Whatever delays may happen, I will bear them patiently. I am lonely and friendless, and surely troubled in mind, but I am strong enough to win my way through worse trials than these. My spirits will rise again, and my time will come. If that Secret Trust is in Admiral Bartram's possession—when you next see me, you shall see me with it in my own hands. Yours gratefully,
THE SIXTH SCENE.
ST. JOHN'S WOOD.
IT wanted little more than a fortnight to Christmas; but the weather showed no signs yet of the frost and snow, conventionally associated with the coming season. The atmosphere was unnaturally warm, and the old year was dying feebly in sapping rain and enervating mist.
Toward the close of the December afternoon, Magdalen sat alone in the lodging which she had occupied since her arrival in London. The fire burned sluggishly in the narrow little grate; the view of the wet houses and soaking gardens opposite was darkening fast; and the bell of the suburban muffin-boy tinkled in the distance drearily. Sitting close over the fire, with a little money lying loose in her lap, Magdalen absently shifted the coins to and fro on the smooth surface of her dress, incessantly altering their positions toward each other, as if they were pieces of a "child's puzzle" which she was trying to put together. The dim fire-light flaming up on her faintly from time to time showed changes which would have told their own tale sadly to friends of former days. Her dress had become loose through the wasting of her figure; but she had not cared to alter it. The old restlessness in her movements, the old mobility in her expression, appeared no more. Her face passively maintained its haggard composure, its changeless unnatural calm. Mr. Pendril might have softened his hard sentence on her, if he had seen her now; and Mrs. Lecount, in the plenitude of her triumph, might have pitied her fallen enemy at last.
Hardly four months had passed since the wedding-day at Aldborough, and the penalty for that day was paid already—paid in unavailing remorse, in hopeless isolation, in irremediable defeat! Let this be said for her; let the truth which has been told of the fault be told of the expiation as well. Let it be recorded of her that she enjoyed no secret triumph on the day of her success. The horror of herself with which her own act had inspired her, had risen to its climax when the design of her marriage was achieved. She had never suffered in secret as she suffered when the Combe-Raven money was left to her in her husband's will. She had never felt the means taken to accomplish her end so unutterably degrading to herself, as she felt them on the day when the end was reached. Out of that feeling had grown the remorse which had hurried her to seek pardon and consolation in her sister's love. Never since it had first entered her heart, never since she had first felt it sacred to her at her father's grave, had the Purpose to which she had vowed herself, so nearly lost its hold on her as at this time. Never might Norah's influence have achieved such good as on the day when that influence was lost—the day when the fatal words were overheard at Miss Garth's—the day when the fatal letter from Scotland told of Mrs. Lecount's revenge.
The harm was done; the chance was gone. Time and Hope alike had both passed her by.
Faintly and more faintly the inner voices now pleaded with her to pause on the downward way. The discovery which had poisoned her heart with its first distrust of her sister; the tidings which had followed it of her husband's death; the sting of Mrs. Lecount's triumph, felt through all, had done their work. The remorse which had embittered her married life was deadened now to a dull despair. It was too late to make the atonement of confession—too late to lay bare to the miserable husband the deeper secrets that had once lurked in the heart of the miserable wife. Innocent of all thought of the hideous treachery which Mrs. Lecount had imputed to her—she was guilty of knowing how his health was broken when she married him; guilty of knowing, when he left her the Combe-Raven money, that the accident of a moment, harmless to other men, might place his life in jeopardy, and effect her release. His death had told her this—had told her plainly what she had shrunk, in his lifetime, from openly acknowledging to herself. From the dull torment of that reproach; from the dreary wretchedness of doubting everybody, even to Norah herself; from the bitter sense of her defeated schemes; from the blank solitude of her friendless life—what refuge was left? But one refuge now. She turned to the relentless Purpose which was hurrying her to her ruin, and cried to it with the daring of her despair—Drive me on!
For days and days together she had bent her mind on the one object which occupied it since she had received the lawyer's letter. For days and days together she had toiled to meet the first necessity of her position—to find a means of discovering the Secret Trust. There was no hope, this time, of assistance from Captain Wragge. Long practice had made the old militia-man an adept in the art of vanishing. The plow of the moral agriculturist left no furrows—not a trace of him was to be found! Mr. Loscombe was too cautious to commit himself to an active course of any kind; he passively maintained his opinions and left the rest to his client—-he desired to know nothing until the Trust was placed in his hands. Magdalen's interests were now in Magdalen's own sole care. Risk or no risk, what she did next she must do by herself.
The prospect had not daunted her. Alone she had calculated the chances that might be tried. Alone she was now determined to make the attempt.
"The time has come," she said to herself, as she sat over the fire. "I must sound Louisa first."
She collected the scattered coins in her lap, and placed them in a little heap on the table, then rose and rang the bell. The landlady answered it.
"Is my servant downstairs?" inquired Magdalen.
"Yes, ma'am. She is having her tea."
"When she has done, say I want her up here. Wait a moment. You will find your money on the table—the money I owe you for last week. Can you find it? or would you like to have a candle?"
"It's rather dark, ma'am."
Magdalen lit a candle. "What notice must I give you," she asked, as she put the candle on the table, "before I leave?"
"A week is the usual notice, ma'am. I hope you have no objection to make to the house?"
"None whatever. I only ask the question, because I may be obliged to leave these lodgings rather sooner than I anticipated. Is the money right?"
"Quite right, ma'am. Here is your receipt."
"Thank you. Don't forget to send Louisa to me as soon as she has done her tea."
The landlady withdrew. As soon as she was alone again, Magdalen extinguished the candle, and drew an empty chair close to her own chair on the hearth. This done, she resumed her former place, and waited until Louisa appeared. There was doubt in her face as she sat looking mechanically into the fire. "A poor chance," she thought to herself; "but, poor as it is, a chance that I must try."
In ten minutes more, Louisa's meek knock was softly audible outside. She was surprised, on entering the room, to find no other light in it than the light of the fire.
"Will you have the candles, ma'am?" she inquired, respectfully.
"We will have candles if you wish for them yourself," replied Magdalen; "not otherwise. I have something to say to you. When I have said it, you shall decide whether we sit together in the dark or in the light."
Louisa waited near the door, and listened to those strange words in silent astonishment.
"Come here," said Magdalen, pointing to the empty chair; "come here and sit down."
Louisa advanced, and timidly removed the chair from its position at her mistress's side. Magdalen instantly drew it back again. "No!" she said. "Come closer—come close by me." After a moment's hesitation, Louisa obeyed.
"I ask you to sit near me," pursued Magdalen, "because I wish to speak to you on equal terms. Whatever distinctions there might once have been between us are now at an end. I am a lonely woman thrown helpless on my own resources, without rank or place in the world. I may or may not keep you as my friend. As mistress and maid the connection between us must come to an end."
"Oh, ma'am, don't, don't say that!" pleaded Louisa, faintly.
Magdalen sorrowfully and steadily went on.
"When you first came to me," she resumed, "I thought I should not like you. I have learned to like you—I have learned to be grateful to you. From first to last you have been faithful and good to me. The least I can do in return is not to stand in the way of your future prospects."
"Don't send me away, ma'am!" said Louisa, imploringly. "If you can only help me with a little money now and then, I'll wait for my wages—I will, indeed."
Magdalen took her hand and went on, as sorrowfully and as steadily as before.
"My future life is all darkness, all uncertainty," she said. "The next step I may take may lead me to my prosperity or may lead me to my ruin. Can I ask you to share such a prospect as this? If your future was as uncertain as mine is—if you, too, were a friendless woman thrown on the world—my conscience might be easy in letting you cast your lot with mine. I might accept your attachment, for I might feel I was not wronging you. How can I feel this in your case? You have a future to look to. You are an excellent servant; you can get another place—a far better place than mine. You can refer to me; and if the character I give is not considered sufficient, you can refer to the mistress you served before me—"
At the instant when that reference to the girl's last employer escaped Magdalen's lips, Louisa snatched her hand away and started up affrightedly from her chair. There was a moment's silence. Both mistress and maid were equally taken by surprise.
Magdalen was the first to recover herself.
"Is it getting too dark?" she asked, significantly. "Are you going to light the candles, after all?"
Louisa drew back into the dimmest corner of the room.
"You suspect me, ma'am!" she answered out of the darkness, in a breathless whisper. "Who has told you? How did you find out—?" She stopped, and burst into tears. "I deserve your suspicion," she said, struggling to compose herself. "I can't deny it to you. You have treated me so kindly; you have made me so fond of you! Forgive me, Mrs. Vanstone—I am a wretch; I have deceived you."
"Come here and sit down by me again," said Magdalen. "Come—or I will get up myself and bring you back."
Louisa slowly returned to her place. Dim as the fire-light was, she seemed to fear it. She held her handkerchief over her face, and shrank from her mistress as she seated herself again in the chair.
"You are wrong in thinking that any one has betrayed you to me," said Magdalen. "All that I know of you is, what your own looks and ways have told me. You have had some secret trouble weighing on your mind ever since you have been in my service. I confess I have spoken with the wish to find out more of you and your past life than I have found out yet—not because I am curious, but because I have my secret troubles too. Are you an unhappy woman, like me? If you are, I will take you into my confidence. If you have nothing to tell me—if you choose to keep your secret—I don't blame you; I only say, Let us part. I won't ask how you have deceived me. I will only remember that you have been an honest and faithful and competent servant while I have employed you; and I will say as much in your favor to any new mistress you like to send to me."
She waited for the reply. For a moment, and only for a moment, Louisa hesitated. The girl's nature was weak, but not depraved. She was honestly attached to her mistress; and she spoke with a courage which Magdalen had not expected from her.
"If you send me away, ma'am," she said, "I won't take my character from you till I have told you the truth; I won't return your kindness by deceiving you a second time. Did my master ever tell you how he engaged me?"
"No. I never asked him, and he never told me."
"He engaged me, ma'am, with a written character—"
"The character was a false one."
Magdalen drew back in amazement. The confession she heard was not the confession she had anticipated.
"Did your mistress refuse to give you a character?" she asked. "Why?"
Louisa dropped on her knees and hid her face in her mistress's lap. "Don't ask me!" she said. "I'm a miserable, degraded creature; I'm not fit to be in the same room with you!" Magdalen bent over her, and whispered a question in her ear. Louisa whispered back the one sad word of reply.
"Has he deserted you?" asked Magdalen, after waiting a moment, and thinking first.
"Do you love him?"
The remembrance of her own loveless marriage stung Magdalen to the quick.
"For God's sake, don't kneel to me!" she cried, passionately. "If there is a degraded woman in this room, I am the woman—not you!"
She raised the girl by main force from her knees, and put her back in the chair. They both waited a little in silence. Keeping her hand on Louisa's shoulder, Magdalen seated herself again, and looked with unutterable bitterness of sorrow into the dying fire. "Oh," she thought, "what happy women there are in the world! Wives who love their husbands! Mothers who are not ashamed to own their children! Are you quieter?" she asked, gently addressing Louisa once more. "Can you answer me, if I ask you something else? Where is the child?"
"The child is out at nurse."
"Does the father help to support it?"
"He does all he can, ma'am."
"What is he? Is he in service? Is he in a trade?"
"His father is a master-carpenter—he works in his father's yard."
"If he has got work, why has he not married you?"
"It is his father's fault, ma'am—not his. His father has no pity on us. He would be turned out of house and home if he married me."
"Can he get no work elsewhere?"
"It's hard to get good work in London, ma'am. There are so many in London—they take the bread out of each other's mouths. If we had only had the money to emigrate, he would have married me long since."
"Would he marry you if you had the money now?"
"I am sure he would, ma'am. He could get plenty of work in Australia, and double and treble the wages he gets here. He is trying hard, and I am trying hard, to save a little toward it—I put by all I can spare from my child. But it is so little! If we live for years to come, there seems no hope for us. I know I have done wrong every way—I know I don't deserve to be happy. But how could I let my child suffer?—I was obliged to go to service. My mistress was hard on me, and my health broke down in trying to live by my needle. I would never have deceived anybody by a false character, if there had been another chance for me. I was alone and helpless, ma'am; and I can only ask you to forgive me."
"Ask better women than I am," said Magdalen, sadly. "I am only fit to feel for you, and I do feel for you with all my heart. In your place I should have gone into service with a false character, too. Say no more of the past—you don't know how you hurt me in speaking of it. Talk of the future. I think I can help you, and do you no harm. I think you can help me, and do me the greatest of all services in return. Wait, and you shall hear what I mean. Suppose you were married—how much would it cost for you and your husband to emigrate?"
Louisa mentioned the cost of a steerage passage to Australia for a man and his wife. She spoke in low, hopeless tones. Moderate as the sum was, it looked like unattainable wealth in her eyes.
Magdalen started in her chair, and took the girl's hand once more.
"Louisa!" she said, earnestly; "if I gave you the money, what would you do for me in return?"
The proposal seemed to strike Louisa speechless with astonishment. She trembled violently, and said nothing. Magdalen repeated her words.
"Oh, ma'am, do you mean it?" said the girl. "Do you really mean it?"
"Yes," replied Magdalen; "I really mean it. What would you do for me in return?"
"Do?" repeated Louisa. "Oh what is there I would not do!" She tried to kiss her mistress's hand; but Magdalen would not permit it. She resolutely, almost roughly, drew her hand away.
"I am laying you under no obligation," she said. "We are serving each other—that is all. Sit quiet, and let me think."
For the next ten minutes there was silence in the room. At the end of that time Magdalen took out her watch and held it close to the grate. There was just firelight enough to show her the hour. It was close on six o'clock.
"Are you composed enough to go downstairs and deliver a message?" she asked, rising from her chair as she spoke to Louisa again. "It is a very simple message—it is only to tell the boy that I want a cab as soon as he can get me one. I must go out immediately. You shall know why later in the evening. I have much more to say to you; but there is no time to say it now. When I am gone, bring your work up here, and wait for my return. I shall be back before bed-time."
Without another word of explanation, she hurriedly lit a candle and withdrew into the bedroom to put on her bonnet and shawl.
BETWEEN nine and ten o clock the same evening, Louisa, waiting anxiously, heard the long-expected knock at the house door. She ran downstairs at once and let her mistress in.
Magdalen's face was flushed. She showed far more agitation on returning to the house than she had shown on leaving it. "Keep your place at the table," she said to Louisa, impatiently; "but lay aside your work. I want you to attend carefully to what I am going to say."
Louisa obeyed. Magdalen seated herself at the opposite side of the table, and moved the candles, so as to obtain a clear and uninterrupted view of her servant's face.
"Have you noticed a respectable elderly woman," she began, abruptly, "who has been here once or twice in the last fortnight to pay me a visit?"
"Yes, ma'am; I think I let her in the second time she came. An elderly person named Mrs. Attwood?"
"That is the person I mean. Mrs. Attwood is Mr. Loscombe's housekeeper; not the housekeeper at his private residence, but the housekeeper at his offices in Lincoln's Inn. I promised to go and drink tea with her some evening this week, and I have been to-night. It is strange of me, is it not, to be on these familiar terms with a woman in Mrs. Attwood's situation?"
Louisa made no answer in words. Her face spoke for her: she could hardly avoid thinking it strange.
"I had a motive for making friends with Mrs. Attwood," Magdalen went on. "She is a widow, with a large family of daughters. Her daughters are all in service. One of them is an under-housemaid in the service of Admiral Bartram, at St. Crux-in-the-Marsh. I found that out from Mrs. Attwood's master; and as soon as I arrived at the discovery, I privately determined to make Mrs. Attwood's acquaintance. Stranger still, is it not?"
Louisa began to look a little uneasy. Her mistress's manner was at variance with her mistress's words—it was plainly suggestive of something startling to come.
"What attraction Mrs. Attwood finds in my society," Magdalen continued, "I cannot presume to say. I can only tell you she has seen better days; she is an educated person; and she may like my society on that account. At any rate, she has readily met my advances toward her. What attraction I find in this good woman, on my side, is soon told. I have a great curiosity—an unaccountable curiosity, you will think—about the present course of household affairs at St. Crux-in-the-Marsh. Mrs. Attwood's daughter is a good girl, and constantly writes to her mother. Her mother is proud of the letters and proud of the girl, and is ready enough to talk about her daughter and her daughter's place. That is Mrs. Attwood's attraction to me. You understand, so far?"
Yes—Louisa understood. Magdalen went on. "Thanks to Mrs. Attwood and Mrs. Attwood's daughter," she said, "I know some curious particulars already of the household at St. Crux. Servants' tongues and servants' letters—as I need not tell you—are oftener occupied with their masters and mistresses than their masters and mistresses suppose. The only mistress at St. Crux is the housekeeper. But there is a master—Admiral Bartram. He appears to be a strange old man, whose whims and fancies amuse his servants as well as his friends. One of his fancies (the only one we need trouble ourselves to notice) is, that he had men enough about him when he was living at sea, and that now he is living on shore, he will be waited on by women-servants alone. The one man in the house is an old sailor, who has been all his life with his master—he is a kind of pensioner at St. Crux, and has little or nothing to do with the housework. The other servants, indoors, are all women; and instead of a footman to wait on him at dinner, the admiral has a parlor-maid. The parlor-maid now at St. Crux is engaged to be married, and as soon as her master can suit himself she is going away. These discoveries I made some days since. But when I saw Mrs. Attwood to-night, she had received another letter from her daughter in the interval, and that letter has helped me to find out something more. The housekeeper is at her wits' end to find a new servant. Her master insists on youth and good looks—he leaves everything else to the housekeeper—but he will have that. All the inquiries made in the neighborhood have failed to produce the sort of parlor-maid whom the admiral wants. If nothing can be done in the next fortnight or three weeks, the housekeeper will advertise in the Times, and will come to London herself to see the applicants, and to make strict personal inquiry into their characters."
Louisa looked at her mistress more attentively than ever. The expression of perplexity left her face, and a shade of disappointment appeared there in its stead. "Bear in mind what I have said," pursued Magdalen; "and wait a minute more, while I ask you some questions. Don't think you understand me yet—I can assure you, you don't understand me. Have you always lived in service as lady's maid?"
"Have you ever lived as parlor-maid?"
"Only in one place, ma'am, and not for long there."
"I suppose you lived long enough to learn your duties?"
"What were your duties besides waiting at table?"
"I had to show visitors in."
"Yes; and what else?"
"I had the plate and the glass to look after; and the table-linen was all under my care. I had to answer all the bells, except in the bedrooms. There were other little odds and ends sometimes to do—"
"But your regular duties were the duties you have just mentioned?"
"How long ago is it since you lived in service as a parlor-maid?"
"A little better than two years, ma'am."
"I suppose you have not forgotten how to wait at table, and clean plate, and the rest of it, in that time?"
At this question Louisa's attention, which had been wandering more and more during the progress of Magdalen's inquiries, wandered away altogether. Her gathering anxieties got the better of her discretion, and even of her timidity. Instead of answering her mistress, she suddenly and confusedly ventured on a question of her own.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," she said. "Did you mean me to offer for the parlor-maid's place at St. Crux?"
"You?" replied Magdalen. "Certainly not! Have you forgotten what I said to you in this room before I went out? I mean you to be married, and go to Australia with your husband and your child. You have not waited as I told you, to hear me explain myself. You have drawn your own conclusions, and you have drawn them wrong. I asked a question just now, which you have not answered—I asked if you had forgotten your parlor-maid's duties?"
"Oh, no, ma'am!" Louisa had replied rather unwillingly thus far. She answered readily and confidently now.
"Could you teach the duties to another servant?" asked Magdalen.
"Yes, ma'am—easily, if she was quick and attentive."
"Could you teach the duties to Me?"
Louisa started, and changed color. "You, ma'am!" she exclaimed, half in incredulity, half in alarm.
"Yes," said Magdalen. "Could you qualify me to take the parlor-maid's place at St. Crux?"
Plain as those words were, the bewilderment which they produced in Louisa's mind seemed to render her incapable of comprehending her mistress's proposal. "You, ma'am!" she repeated, vacantly.
"I shall perhaps help you to understand this extraordinary project of mine," said Magdalen, "if I tell you plainly what the object of it is. Do you remember what I said to you about Mr. Vanstone's will when you came here from Scotland to join me?"
"Yes, ma'am. You told me you had been left out of the will altogether. I'm sure my fellow-servant would never have been one of the witnesses if she had known—"
"Never mind that now. I don't blame your fellow-servant—I blame nobody but Mrs. Lecount. Let me go on with what I was saying. It is not at all certain that Mrs. Lecount can do me the mischief which Mrs. Lecount intended. There is a chance that my lawyer, Mr. Loscombe, may be able to gain me what is fairly my due, in spite of the will. The chance turns on my discovering a letter which Mr. Loscombe believes, and which I believe, to be kept privately in Admiral Bartram's possession. I have not the least hope of getting at that letter if I make the attempt in my own person. Mrs. Lecount has poisoned the admiral's mind against me, and Mr. Vanstone has given him a secret to keep from me. If I wrote to him, he would not answer my letter. If I went to his house, the door would be closed in my face. I must find my way into St. Crux as a stranger—I must be in a position to look about the house, unsuspected—I must be there with plenty of time on my hands. All the circumstances are in my favor, if I am received into the house as a servant; and as a servant I mean to go."
"But you are a lady, ma'am," objected Louisa, in the greatest perplexity. "The servants at St. Crux would find you out."
"I am not at all afraid of their finding me out," said Magdalen. "I know how to disguise myself in other people's characters more cleverly than you suppose. Leave me to face the chances of discovery—that is my risk. Let us talk of nothing now but what concerns you. Don't decide yet whether you will, or will not, give me the help I want. Wait, and hear first what the help is. You are quick and clever at your needle. Can you make me the sort of gown which it is proper for a servant to wear—and can you alter one of my best silk dresses so as to make it fit yourself —in a week's time?"
"I think I could get them done in a week, ma'am. But why am I to wear—"
"Wait a little, and you will see. I shall give the landlady her week's notice to-morrow. In the interval, while you are making the dresses, I can be learning the parlor-maid's duties. When the house-servant here has brought up the dinner, and when you and I are alone in the room—instead of your waiting on me, as usual, I will wait on you. (I am quite serious; don't interrupt me!) Whatever I can learn besides, without hindering you, I will practice carefully at every opportunity. When the week is over, and the dresses are done, we will leave this place, and go into other lodgings—you as the mistress and I as the maid."
"I should be found out, ma'am," interposed Louisa, trembling at the prospect before her. "I am not a lady."
"And I am," said Magdalen, bitterly. "Shall I tell you what a lady is? A lady is a woman who wears a silk gown, and has a sense of her own importance. I shall put the gown on your back, and the sense in your head. You speak good English; you are naturally quiet and self-restrained; if you can only conquer your timidity, I have not the least fear of you. There will be time enough in the new lodging for you to practice your character, and for me to practice mine. There will be time enough to make some more dresses—another gown for me, and your wedding-dress (which I mean to give you) for yourself. I shall have the newspaper sent every day. When the advertisement appears, I shall answer it—in any name I can take on the spur of the moment; in your name, if you like to lend it to me; and when the housekeeper asks me for my character, I shall refer her to you. She will see you in the position of mistress, and me in the position of maid—no suspicion can possibly enter her mind, unless you put it there. If you only have the courage to follow my instructions, and to say what I shall tell you to say, the interview will be over in ten minutes."
"You frighten me, ma'am," said Louisa, still trembling. "You take my breath away with surprise. Courage! Where shall I find courage?"
"Where I keep it for you," said Magdalen—"in the passage-money to Australia. Look at the new prospect which gives you a husband, and restores you to your child—and you will find your courage there."
Louisa's sad face brightened; Louisa's faint heart beat quick. A spark of her mistress's spirit flew up into her eyes as she thought of the golden future.
"If you accept my proposal," pursued Magdalen, "you can be asked in church at once, if you like. I promise you the money on the day when the advertisement appears in the newspaper. The risk of the housekeeper's rejecting me is my risk—not yours. My good looks are sadly gone off, I know. But I think I can still hold my place against the other servants—I think I can still look the parlor-maid whom Admiral Bartram wants. There is nothing for you to fear in this matter; I should not have mentioned it if there had been. The only danger is the danger of my being discovered at St. Crux, and that falls entirely on me. By the time I am in the admiral's house you will be married, and the ship will be taking you to your new life."
Louisa's face, now brightening with hope, now clouding again with fear, showed plain signs of the struggle which it cost her to decide. She tried to gain time; she attempted confusedly to speak a few words of gratitude; but her mistress silenced her.
"You owe me no thanks," said Magdalen. "I tell you again, we are only helping each other. I have very little money, but it is enough for your purpose, and I give it you freely. I have led a wretched life; I have made others wretched about me. I can't even make you happy, except by tempting you to a new deceit. There! there! it's not your fault. Worse women than you are will help me, if you refuse. Decide as you like, but don't be afraid of taking the money. If I succeed, I shall not want it. If I fail—"
She stopped, rose abruptly from her chair, and hid her face from Louisa by walking away to the fire-place.
"If I fail," she resumed, warming her foot carelessly at the fender, "all the money in the world will be of no use to me. Never mind why—never mind Me—think of yourself. I won't take advantage of the confession you have made to me; I won't influence you against your will. Do as you yourself think best. But remember one thing—my mind is made up; nothing you can say or do will change it."
Her sudden removal from the table, the altered tones of her voice as she spoke the last words, appeared to renew Louisa's hesitation. She clasped her hands together in her lap, and wrung them hard. "This has come on me very suddenly, ma'am," said the girl. "I am sorely tempted to say Yes; and yet I am almost afraid—"
"Take the night to consider it," interposed Magdalen, keeping her face persistently turned toward the fire; "and tell me what you have decided to do, when you come into my room to-morrow morning. I shall want no help to-night—I can undress myself. You are not so strong as I am; you are tired, I dare say. Don't sit up on my account. Good-night, Louisa, and pleasant dreams!"
Her voice sank lower and lower as she spoke those kind words. She sighed heavily, and, leaning her arm on the mantel-piece, laid her head on it with a reckless weariness miserable to see. Louisa had not left the room, as she supposed—Louisa came softly to her side, and kissed her hand. Magdalen started; but she made no attempt, this time, to draw her hand away. The sense of her own horrible isolation subdued her, at the touch of the servant's lips. Her proud heart melted; her eyes filled with burning tears. "Don't distress me!" she said, faintly. "The time for kindness has gone by; it only overpowers me now. Good-night!"
When the morning came, the affirmative answer which Magdalen had anticipated was the answer given.
On that day the landlady received her week's notice to quit, and Louisa's needle flew fast through the stitches of the parlor-maid's dress.
THE END OF THE SIXTH SCENE.
BETWEEN THE SCENES.
PROGRESS OF THE STORY THROUGH THE POST.
From Miss Garth to Mr. Pendril.
"Westmoreland House, January 3d, 1848.
"DEAR MR. PENDRIL—I write, as you kindly requested, to report how Norah is going on, and to tell you what changes I see for the better in the state of her mind on the subject of her sister.
"I cannot say that she is becoming resigned to Magdalen's continued silence—I know her faithful nature too well to say it. I can only tell you that she is beginning to find relief from the heavy pressure of sorrow and suspense in new thoughts and new hopes. I doubt if she has yet realized this in her own mind; but I see the result, although she is not conscious of it herself. I see her heart opening to the consolation of another interest and another love. She has not said a word to me on the subject, nor have I said a word to her. But as certainly as I know that Mr. George Bartram's visits have lately grown more and more frequent to the family at Portland Place—so certainly I can assure you that Norah is finding a relief under her suspense, which is not of my bringing, and a hope in the future, which I have not taught her to feel.
"It is needless for me to say that I tell you this in the strictest confidence. God knows whether the happy prospect which seems to me to be just dawning will grow brighter or not as time goes on. The oftener I see Mr. George Bartram—and he has called on me more than once—the stronger my liking for him grows. To my poor judgment he seems to be a gentleman in the highest and truest sense of the word. If I could live to see Norah his wife, I should almost feel that I had lived long enough. But who can discern the future? We have suffered so much that I am afraid to hope.
"Have you heard anything of Magdalen? I don't know why or how it is; but since I have known of her husband's death, my old tenderness for her seems to cling to me more obstinately than ever. Always yours truly,
From Mr. Pendril to Miss Garth.
"Serle Street, January 4th, 1848.
"DEAR MISS GARTH—Of Mrs. Noel Vanstone herself I have heard nothing. But I have learned, since I saw you, that the report of the position in which she is left by the death of her husband may be depended upon as the truth. No legacy of any kind is bequeathed to her. Her name is not once mentioned in her husband's will.
"Knowing what we know, it is not to be concealed that this circumstance threatens us with more embarrassment, and perhaps with more distress. Mrs. Noel Vanstone is not the woman to submit, without a desperate resistance, to the total overthrow of all her schemes and all her hopes. The mere fact that nothing whatever has been heard of her since her husband's death is suggestive to my mind of serious mischief to come. In her situation, and with her temper, the quieter she is now, the more inveterately I, for one, distrust her in the future. It is impossible to say to what violent measures her present extremity may not drive her. It is impossible to feel sure that she may not be the cause of some public scandal this time, which may affect her innocent sister as well as herself.
"I know you will not misinterpret the motive which has led me to write these lines; I know you will not think that I am inconsiderate enough to cause you unnecessary alarm. My sincere anxiety to see that happy prospect realized to which your letter alludes has caused me to write far less reservedly than I might otherwise have written. I strongly urge you to use your influence, on every occasion when you can fairly exert it, to strengthen that growing attachment, and to place it beyond the reach of any coming disasters, while you have the opportunity of doing so. When I tell you that the fortune of which Mrs. Noel Vanstone has been deprived is entirely bequeathed to Admiral Bartram; and when I add that Mr. George Bartram is generally understood to be his uncle's heir—you will, I think, acknowledge that I am not warning you without a cause. Yours most truly,
From Admiral Bartram to Mrs. Drake (housekeeper at St. Crux).
"St. Crux, January 10th, 1848.
"MRS. DRAKE—I have received your letter from London, stating that you have found me a new parlor-maid at last, and that the girl is ready to return with you to St. Crux when your other errands in town allow you to come back.
"This arrangement must be altered immediately, for a reason which I am heartily sorry to have to write.
"The illness of my niece, Mrs. Girdlestone—which appeared to be so slight as to alarm none of us, doctors included—has ended fatally. I received this morning the shocking news of her death. Her husband is said to be quite frantic with grief. Mr. George has already gone to his brother-in-law's, to superintend the last melancholy duties and I must follow him before the funeral takes place. We propose to take Mr. Girdlestone away afterward, and to try the effect on him of change of place and new scenes. Under these sad circumstances, I may be absent from St. Crux a month or six weeks at least; the house will be shut up, and the new servant will not be wanted until my return.
"You will therefore tell the girl, on receiving this letter, that a death in the family has caused a temporary change in our arrangements. If she is willing to wait, you may safely engage her to come here in six weeks' time; I shall be back then, if Mr. George is not. If she refuses, pay her what compensation is right, and so have done with her. Yours,
From Mrs. Drake to Admiral Bartram.
"HONORED SIR—I hope to get my errands done, and to return to St. Crux to-morrow, but write to save you anxiety, in case of delay.
"The young woman whom I have engaged (Louisa by name) is willing to wait your time; and her present mistress, taking an interest in her welfare, will provide for her during the interval. She understands that she is to enter on her new service in six weeks from the present date—namely, on the twenty-fifth of February next.
"Begging you will accept my respectful sympathy under the sad bereavement which has befallen the family,
"I remain, honored sir, your humble servant,
THE SEVENTH SCENE.
"THIS is where you are to sleep. Put yourself tidy, and then come down again to my room. The admiral has returned, and you will have to begin by waiting on him at dinner to-day."
With those words, Mrs. Drake, the housekeeper, closed the door; and the new parlor-maid was left alone in her bed-chamber at St. Crux.
That day was the eventful twenty-fifth of February. In barely four months from the time when Mrs. Lecount had placed her master's private Instructions in his Executor's hands, the one combination of circumstances against which it had been her first and foremost object to provide was exactly the combination which had now taken place. Mr. Noel Vanstone's widow and Admiral Bartram's Secret Trust were together in the same house.
Thus far, events had declared themselves without an exception in Magdalen's favor. Thus far, the path which had led her to St. Crux had been a path without an obstacle: Louisa, whose name she had now taken, had sailed three days since for Australia, with her husband and her child; she was the only living creature whom Magdalen had trusted with her secret, and she was by this time out of sight of the English land. The girl had been careful, reliable and faithfully devoted to her mistress's interests to the last. She had passed the ordeal of her interview with the housekeeper, and had forgotten none of the instructions by which she had been prepared to meet it. She had herself proposed to turn the six weeks' delay, caused by the death in the admiral's family, to good account, by continuing the all-important practice of those domestic lessons, on the perfect acquirement of which her mistress's daring stratagem depended for its success. Thanks to the time thus gained, when Louisa's marriage was over, and the day of parting had come, Magdalen had learned and mastered, in the nicest detail, everything that her former servant could teach her. On the day when she passed the doors of St. Crux she entered on her desperate venture, strong in the ready presence of mind under emergencies which her later life had taught her, stronger still in the trained capacity that she possessed for the assumption of a character not her own, strongest of all in her two months' daily familiarity with the practical duties of the position which she had undertaken to fill.
As soon as Mrs. Drake's departure had left her alone, she unpacked her box, and dressed herself for the evening.
She put on a lavender-colored stuff-gown—half-mourning for Mrs. Girdlestone; ordered for all the servants, under the admiral's instructions—a white muslin apron, and a neat white cap and collar, with ribbons to match the gown. In this servant's costume—in the plain gown fastening high round her neck, in the neat little white cap at the back of her head—in this simple dress, to the eyes of all men, not linen-drapers, at once the most modest and the most alluring that a woman can wear, the sad changes which mental suffering had wrought in her beauty almost disappeared from view. In the evening costume of a lady, with her bosom uncovered, with her figure armed, rather than dressed, in unpliable silk, the admiral might have passed her by without notice in his own drawing-room. In the evening costume of a servant, no admirer of beauty could have looked at her once and not have turned again to look at her for the second time.
Descending the stairs, on her way to the house-keeper's room, she passed by the entrances to two long stone corridors, with rows of doors opening on them; one corridor situated on the second, and one on the first floor of the house. "Many rooms!" she thought, as she looked at the doors. "Weary work searching here for what I have come to find!"
On reaching the ground-floor she was met by a weather-beaten old man, who stopped and stared at her with an appearance of great interest. He was the same old man whom Captain Wragge had seen in the backyard at St. Crux, at work on the model of a ship. All round the neighborhood he was known, far and wide, as "the admiral's coxswain." His name was Mazey. Sixty years had written their story of hard work at sea, and hard drinking on shore, on the veteran's grim and wrinkled face. Sixty years had proved his fidelity, and had brought his battered old carcass, at the end of the voyage, into port in his master's house.
Seeing no one else of whom she could inquire, Magdalen requested the old man to show her the way that led to the housekeeper's room.
"I'll show you, my dear," said old Mazey, speaking in the high and hollow voice peculiar to the deaf. "You're the new maid—eh? And a fine-grown girl, too! His honor, the admiral, likes a parlor-maid with a clean run fore and aft. You'll do, my dear—you'll do."
"You must not mind what Mr. Mazey says to you," remarked t he housekeeper, opening her door as the old sailor expressed his approval of Magdalen in these terms. "He is privileged to t alk as he pleases; and he is very tiresome and slovenly in his habits; but he means no harm."
With that apology for the veteran, Mrs. Drake led Magdalen first to the pantry, and next to the linen-room, installing her, with all due formality, in her own domestic dominions. This ceremony completed, the new parlor-maid was taken upstairs, and was shown the dining-room, which opened out of the corridor on the first floor. Here she was directed to lay the cloth, and to prepare the table for one person only—Mr. George Bartram not having returned with his uncle to St. Crux. Mrs. Drake's sharp eyes watched Magdalen attentively as she performed this introductory duty; and Mrs. Drake's private convictions, when the table was spread, forced her to acknowledge, so far, that the new servant thoroughly understood her work.
An hour later the soup-tureen was placed on the table; and Magdalen stood alone behind the admiral's empty chair, waiting her master's first inspection of her when he entered the dining-room.
A large bell rang in the lower regions—quick, shambling footsteps pattered on the stone corridor outside—the door opened suddenly—and a tall lean yellow old man, sharp as to his eyes, shrewd as to his lips, fussily restless as to all his movements, entered the room, with two huge Labrador dogs at his heels, and took his seat in a violent hurry. The dogs followed him, and placed themselves, with the utmost gravity and composure, one on each side of his chair. This was Admiral Bartram, and these were the companions of his solitary meal.
"Ay! ay! ay! here's the new parlor-maid, to be sure!" he began, looking sharply, but not at all unkindly, at Magdalen. "What's your name, my good girl? Louisa, is it? I shall call you Lucy, if you don't mind. Take off the cover, my dear—I'm a minute or two late to-day. Don't be unpunctual to-morrow on that account; I am as regular as clock-work generally. How are you after your journey? Did my spring-cart bump you about much in bringing you from the station? Capital soup this—hot as fire—reminds me of the soup we used to have in the West Indies in the year Three. Have you got your half-mourning on? Stand there, and let me see. Ah, yes, very neat, and nice, and tidy. Poor Mrs. Girdlestone! Oh dear, dear, dear, poor Mrs. Girdlestone! You're not afraid of dogs, are you, Lucy? Eh? What? You like dogs? That's right! Always be kind to dumb animals. These two dogs dine with me every day, except when there's company. The dog with the black nose is Brutus, and the dog with the white nose is Cassius. Did you ever hear who Brutus and Cassius were? Ancient Romans? That's right—-good girl. Mind your book and your needle, and we'll get you a good husband one of these days. Take away the soup, my dear, take away the soup!"
This was the man whose secret it was now the one interest of Magdalen's life to surprise! This was the man whose name had supplanted hers in Noel Vanstone's will!
The fish and the roast meat followed; and the admiral's talk rambled on—now in soliloquy, now addressed to the parlor-maid, and now directed to the dogs—as familiarly and as discontentedly as ever. Magdalen observed with some surprise that the companions of the admiral's dinner had, thus far, received no scraps from their master's plate. The two magnificent brutes sat squatted on their haunches, with their great heads over the table, watching the progress of the meal, with the profoundest attention, but apparently expecting no share in it. The roast meat was removed, the admiral's plate was changed, and Magdalen took the silver covers off the two made-dishes on either side of the table. As she handed the first of the savory dishes to her master, the dogs suddenly exhibited a breathless personal interest in the proceedings. Brutus gluttonously watered at the mouth; and the tongue of Cassius, protruding in unutterable expectation, smoked again between his enormous jaws.
The admiral helped himself liberally from the dish; sent Magdalen to the side-table to get him some bread; and, when he thought her eye was off him, furtively tumbled the whole contents of his plate into Brutus's mouth. Cassius whined faintly as his fortunate comrade swallowed the savory mess at a gulp. "Hush! you fool," whispered the admiral. "Your turn next!"
Magdalen presented the second dish. Once more the old gentleman helped himself largely—once more he sent her away to the side-table—once more he tumbled the entire contents of the plate down the dog's throat, selecting Cassius this time, as became a considerate master and an impartial man. When the next course followed—consisting of a plain pudding and an unwholesome "cream"—Magdalen's suspicion of the function of the dogs at the dinner-table was confirmed. While the master took the simple pudding, the dogs swallowed the elaborate cream. The admiral was plainly afraid of offending his cook on the one hand, and of offending his digestion on the other—and Brutus and Cassius were the two trained accomplices who regularly helped him every day off the horns of his dilemma. "Very good! very good!" said the old gentleman, with the most transparent duplicity. "Tell the cook, my dear, a capital cream!"
Having placed the wine and dessert on the table, Magdalen was about to withdraw. Before she could leave the room, her master called her back.
"Stop, stop!" said the admiral; "you don't know the ways of the house yet, Lucy. Put another wine-glass here, at my right hand—the largest you can find, my dear. I've got a third dog, who comes in at dessert—a drunken old sea-dog who has followed my fortunes, afloat and ashore, for fifty years and more. Yes, yes, that's the sort of glass we want. You're a good girl—you're a neat, handy girl. Steady, my dear! there's nothing to be frightened at!"
A sudden thump on the outside of the door, followed by one mighty bark from each of the dogs, had made Magdalen start. "Come in!" shouted the admiral. The door opened; the tails of Brutus and Cassius cheerfully thumped the floor; and old Mazey marched straight up to the right-hand side of his master's chair. The veteran stood there, with his legs wide apart and his balance carefully adjusted, as if the dining-room had been a cabin, and the house a ship pitching in a sea-way.
The admiral filled the large glass with port, filled his own glass with claret, and raised it to his lips.
"God bless the Queen, Mazey," said the admiral.
"God bless the Queen, your honor," said old Mazey, swallowing his port, as the dogs swallowed the made-dishes, at a gulp.
"How's the wind, Mazey?"
"West and by Noathe, your honor."
"Any report to-night, Mazey!"
"No report, your honor."
"Good-evening, your honor."
The after-dinner ceremony thus completed, old Mazey made his bow, and walked out of the room again. Brutus and Cassius stretched themselves on the rug to digest mushrooms and made gravies in the lubricating heat of the fire. "For what we have received, the Lord make us truly thankful," said the admiral. "Go downstairs, my good girl, and get your supper. A light meal, Lucy, if you take my advice—a light meal, or you will have the nightmare. Early to bed, my dear, and early to rise, makes a parlor-maid healthy and wealthy and wise. That's the wisdom of your ancestors—you mustn't laugh at it. Good-night." In those words Magdalen was dismissed; and so her first day's experience of Admiral Bartram came to an end.
After breakfast the next morning, the admiral's directions to the new parlor-maid included among them one particular order which, in Magdalen's situation, it was especially her interest to receive. In the old gentleman's absence from home that day, on local business which took him to Ossory, she was directed to make herself acquainted with the whole inhabited quarter of the house, and to learn the positions of the various rooms, so as to know where the bells called her when the bells rang. Mrs. Drake was charged with the duty of superintending the voyage of domestic discovery, unless she happened to be otherwise engaged—in which case any one of the inferior servants would be equally competent to act as Magdalen's guide.
At noon the admiral left for Ossory, and Magdalen presented herself in Mrs. Drake's room, to be shown over the house. Mrs. Drake happened to be otherwise engaged, and referred her to the head house-maid. The head house-maid happened on that particular morning to be in the same condition as Mrs. Drake, and referred her to the under-house-maids. The under-house-maids declared they were all behindhand and had not a minute to spare—they suggested, not too civilly, that old Mazey had nothing on earth to do, and that he knew the house as well, or better, than he knew his A B C. Magdalen took the hint, with a secret indignation and contempt which it cost her a hard struggle to conceal. She had suspected, on the previous night, and she was certain now, that the women-servants all incomprehensibly resented her presence among them with the same sullen unanimity of distrust. Mrs. Drake, as she had seen for herself, was really engaged that morning over her accounts. But of all the servants under her who had made their excuses not one had even affected to be more occupied than usual. Their looks said plainly, "We don't like you; and we won't show you over the house."
She found her way to old Mazey, not by the scanty directions given her, but by the sound of the veteran's cracked and quavering voice, singing in some distant seclusion a verse of the immortal sea-song—"Tom Bowling." Just as she stopped among the rambling stone passages on the basement story of the house, uncertain which way to turn next, she heard the tuneless old voice in the distance, singing these lines:
"His form was of the manliest beau-u-u-uty, His heart was ki-i-ind and soft; Faithful below Tom did his duty, But now he's gone alo-o-o-o-oft —But now he's go-o-o-one aloft!"
Magdalen followed in the direction of the quavering voice, and found herself in a little room looking out on the back yard. There sat old Mazey, with his spectacles low on his nose, and his knotty old hands blundering over the rigging of his model ship. There were Brutus and Cassius digesting before the fire again, and snoring as if they thoroughly enjoyed it. There was Lord Nelson on one wall, in flaming watercolors; and there, on the other, was a portrait of Admiral Bartram's last flagship, in full sail on a sea of slate, with a salmon-colored sky to complete the illusion.
"What, they won't show you over the house—won't they?" said old Mazey. "I will, then! That head house-maid's a sour one, my dear—if ever there was a sour one yet. You're too young and good-looking to please 'em—that's what you are." He rose, took off his spectacles, and feebly mended the fire. "She's as straight as a poplar," said old Mazey, considering Magdalen's figure in drowsy soliloquy. "I say she's as straight as a poplar, and his honor the admiral says so too! Come along, my dear," he proceeded, addressing himself to Magdalen again. "I'll teach you your Pints of the Compass first. When you know your Pints, blow high, blow low, you'll find it plain sailing all over the house."
He led the way to the door—stopped, and suddenly bethinking himself of his miniature ship, went back to put his model away in an empty cupboard—led the way to the door again—stopped once more—remembered that some of the rooms were chilly—and pottered about, swearing and grumbling, and looking for his hat. Magdalen sat down patiently to wait for him. She gratefully contrasted his treatment of her with the treatment she had received from the women. Resist it as firmly, despise it as proudly as we may, all studied unkindness—no matter how contemptible it may be—has a stinging power in it which reaches to the quick. Magdalen only knew how she had felt the small malice of the female servants, by the effect which the rough kindness of the old sailor produced on her afterward. The dumb welcome of the dogs, when the movements in the room had roused them from their sleep, touched her more acutely still. Brutus pushed his mighty muzzle companionably into her hand; and Cassius laid his friendly fore-paw on her lap. Her heart yearned over the two creatures as she patted and caressed them. It seemed only yesterday since she and the dogs at Combe-Raven had roamed the garden together, and had idled away the summer mornings luxuriously on the shady lawn.
Old Mazey found his hat at last, and they started on their exploring expedition, with the dogs after them.
Leaving the basement story of the house, which was entirely devoted to the servants' offices, they ascended to the first floor, and entered the long corridor, with which Magdalen's last night's experience had already made her acquainted. "Put your back ag'in this wall," said old Mazey, pointing to the long wall—pierced at irregular intervals with windows looking out over a courtyard and fish-pond—which formed the right-hand side of the corridor, as Magdalen now stood. "Put your back here," said the veteran, "and look straight afore you. What do you see?"—"The opposite wall of the passage," said Magdalen.—"Ay! ay! what else?"—"The doors leading into the rooms."—"What else?"—"I see nothing else." Old Mazey chuckled, winked, and shook his knotty forefinger at Magdalen, impressively. "You see one of the Pints of the Compass, my dear. When you've got your back ag'in this wall, and when you look straight afore you, you look Noathe. If you ever get lost hereaway, put your back ag'in the wall, look out straight afore you, and say to yourself: 'I look Noathe!' You do that like a good girl, and you won't lose your bearings."
After administering this preliminary dose of instruction, old Mazey opened the first of the doors on the left-hand side of the passage. It led into the dining-room, with which Magdalen was already familiar. The second room was fitted up as a library; and the third, as a morning-room. The fourth and fifth doors—both belonging to dismantled and uninhabited rooms, and both locked-brought them to the end of the north wing of the house, and to the opening of a second and shorter passage, placed at a right angle to the first. Here old Mazey, who had divided his time pretty equally during the investigation of the rooms, in talking of "his honor the Admiral," and whistling to the dogs, returned with all possible expedition to the points of the compass, and gravely directed Magdalen to repeat the ceremony of putting her back against the wall. She attempted to shorten the proceedings, by declaring (quite correctly) that in her present position she knew she was looking east. "Don't you talk about the east, my dear," said old Mazey, proceeding unmoved with his own system of instruction, "till you know the east first. Put your back ag'in this wall, and look straight afore you. What do you see?" The remainder of the catechism proceeded as before. When the end was reached, Magdalen's instructor was satisfied. He chuckled and winked at her once more. "Now you may talk about the east, my dear," said the veteran, "for now you know it."
The east passage, after leading them on for a few yards only, terminated in a vestibule, with a high door in it which faced them as they advanced. The door admitted them to a large and lofty drawing-room, decorated, like all the other apartments, with valuable old-fashioned furniture. Leading the way across this room, Magdalen's conductor pushed back a heavy sliding-door, opposite the door of entrance. "Put your apron over your head," said old Mazey. "We are coming to the Banqueting-Hall now. The floor's mortal cold, and the damp sticks to the place like cockroaches to a collier. His honor the admiral calls it the Arctic Passage. I've got my name for it, too—I call it, Freeze-your-Bones."
Magdalen passed through the doorway, and found herself in the ancient Banqueting-Hall of St. Crux.
On her left hand she saw a row of lofty windows, set deep in embrasures, and extending over a frontage of more than a hundred fee t in length. On her right hand, ranged in one long row from end to end of the opposite wall, hung a dismal collection of black, begrimed old pictures, rotting from their frames, and representing battle-scenes by sea and land. Below the pictures, midway down the length of the wall, yawned a huge cavern of a fireplace, surmounted by a towering mantel-piece of black marble. The one object of furniture (if furniture it might be called) visible far or near in the vast emptiness of the place, was a gaunt ancient tripod of curiously chased metal, standing lonely in the middle of the hall, and supporting a wide circular pan, filled deep with ashes from an extinct charcoal fire. The high ceiling, once finely carved and gilt, was foul with dirt and cobwebs; the naked walls at either end of the room were stained with damp; and the cold of the marble floor struck through the narrow strip of matting laid down, parallel with the windows, as a foot-path for passengers across the wilderness of the room. No better name for it could have been devised than the name which old Mazey had found. "Freeze-your-Bones" accurately described, in three words, the Banqueting-Hall at St. Crux.
"Do you never light a fire in this dismal place?" asked Magdalen.
"It all depends on which side of Freeze-your-Bones his honor the admiral lives," said old Mazey. "His honor likes to shift his quarters, sometimes to one side of the house, sometimes to the other. If he lives Noathe of Freeze-your-Bones—which is where you've just come from—we don't waste our coals here. If he lives South of Freeze-your-Bones—which is where we are going to next—we light the fire in the grate and the charcoal in the pan. Every night, when we do that, the damp gets the better of us: every morning, we turn to again, and get the better of the damp."
With this remarkable explanation, old Mazey led the way to the lower end of the Hall, opened more doors, and showed Magdalen through another suite of rooms, four in number, all of moderate size, and all furnished in much the same manner as the rooms in the northern wing. She looked out of the windows, and saw the neglected gardens of St. Crux, overgrown with brambles and weeds. Here and there, at no great distance in the grounds, the smoothly curving line of one of the tidal streams peculiar to the locality wound its way, gleaming in the sunlight, through gaps in the brambles and trees. The more distant view ranged over the flat eastward country beyond, speckled with its scattered little villages; crossed and recrossed by its network of "back-waters"; and terminated abruptly by the long straight line of sea-wall which protects the defenseless coast of Essex from invasion by the sea.
"Have we more rooms still to see?" asked Magdalen, turning from the view of the garden, and looking about her for another door.
"No more, my dear—we've run aground here, and we may as well wear round and put back again," said old Mazey. "There's another side of the house—due south of you as you stand now—which is all tumbling about our ears. You must go out into the garden if you want to see it; it's built off from us by a brick bulkhead, t'other side of this wall here. The monks lived due south of us, my dear, hundreds of years afore his honor the admiral was born or thought of, and a fine time of it they had, as I've heard. They sang in the church all the morning, and drank grog in the orchard all the afternoon. They slept off their grog on the best of feather-beds, and they fattened on the neighborhood all the year round. Lucky beggars! lucky beggars!"
Apostrophizing the monks in these terms, and evidently regretting that he had not lived himself in those good old times, the veteran led the way back through the rooms. On the return passage across "Freeze-your-Bones," Magdalen preceded him. "She's as straight as a poplar," mumbled old Mazey to himself, hobbling along after his youthful companion, and wagging his venerable head in cordial approval. "I never was particular what nation they belonged to; but I always did like 'em straight and fine grown, and I always shall like 'em straight and fine grown, to my dying day."
"Are there more rooms to see upstairs, on the second floor?" asked Magdalen, when they had returned to the point from which they had started.
The naturally clear, distinct tones of her voice had hitherto reached the old sailor's imperfect sense of hearing easily enough. Rather to her surprise, he became stone deaf on a sudden, to her last question.
"Are you sure of your Pints of the Compass?" he inquired. "If you're not sure, put your back ag'in the wall, and we'll go all over 'em again, my dear, beginning with the Noathe."
Magdalen assured him that she felt quite familiar, by this time, with all the points, the "Noathe" included; and then repeated her question in louder tones. The veteran obstinately matched her by becoming deafer than ever.
"Yes, my dear," he said, "you're right; it is chilly in these passages; and unless I go back to my fire, my fire'll go out—won't it? If you don't feel sure of your Pints of the Compass, come in to me and I'll put you right again." He winked benevolently, whistled to the dogs, and hobbled off. Magdalen heard him chuckle over his own success in balking her curiosity on the subject of the second floor. "I know how to deal with 'em!" said old Mazey to himself, in high triumph. "Tall and short, native and foreign, sweethearts and wives—I know how to deal with 'em!"
Left by herself, Magdalen exemplified the excellence of the old sailor's method of treatment, in her particular case, by ascending the stairs immediately, to make her own observations on the second floor. The stone passage here was exactly similar, except that more doors opened out of it, to the passage on the first floor. She opened the two nearest doors, one after another, at a venture, and discovered that both rooms were bed-chambers. The fear of being discovered by one of the woman-servants in a part of the house with which she had no concern, warned her not to push her investigations on the bedroom floor too far at starting. She hurriedly walked down the passage to see where it ended, discovered that it came to its termination in a lumber-room, answering to the position of the vestibule downstairs, and retraced her steps immediately.
On her way back she noticed an object which had previously escaped her attention. It was a low truckle-bed, placed parallel with the wall, and close to one of the doors on the bedroom side. In spite of its strange and comfortless situation, the bed was apparently occupied at night by a sleeper; the sheets were on it, and the end of a thick red fisherman's cap peeped out from under the pillow. She ventured on opening the door near which the bed was placed, and found herself, as she conjectured from certain signs and tokens, in the admiral's sleeping chamber. A moment's observation of the room was all she dared risk, and, softly closing the door again, she returned to the kitchen regions.
The truckle-bed, and the strange position in which it was placed, dwelt on her mind all through the afternoon. Who could possibly sleep in it? The remembrance of the red fisherman's cap, and the knowledge she had already gained of Mazey's dog-like fidelity to his master, helped her to guess that the old sailor might be the occupant of the truckle-bed. But why, with bedrooms enough and to spare, should he occupy that cold and comfortless situation at night? Why should he sleep on guard outside his master's door? Was there some nocturnal danger in the house of which the admiral was afraid? The question seemed absurd, and yet the position of the bed forced it irresistibly on her mind.
Stimulated by her own ungovernable curiosity on this subject, Magdalen ventured to question the housekeeper. She acknowledged having walked from end to end of the passage on the second floor, to see if it was as long as the passage on the first; and she mentioned having noticed with astonishment the position of the truckle-bed. Mrs. Drake answered her implied inquiry shortly and sharply. "I don't blame a young girl like you," said the old lady, "for being a little curious when she first comes into such a strange house as this. But remember, for the future, that yo ur business does not lie on the bedroom story. Mr. Mazey sleeps on that bed you noticed. It is his habit at night to sleep outside his master's door." With that meager explanation Mrs. Drake's lips closed, and opened no more.
Later in the day Magdalen found an opportunity of applying to old Mazey himself. She discovered the veteran in high good humor, smoking his pipe, and warming a tin mug of ale at his own snug fire.
"Mr. Mazey," she asked, boldly, "why do you put your bed in that cold passage?"
"What! you have been upstairs, you young jade, have you?" said old Mazey, looking up from his mug with a leer.
Magdalen smiled and nodded. "Come! come! tell me," she said, coaxingly. "Why do you sleep outside the admiral's door?"
"Why do you part your hair in the middle, my dear?" asked old Mazey, with another leer.
"I suppose, because I am accustomed to do it," answered Magdalen.
"Ay! ay!" said the veteran. "That's why, is it? Well, my dear, the reason why you part your hair in the middle is the reason why I sleep outside the admiral's door. I know how to deal with 'em!" chuckled old Mazey, lapsing into soliloquy, and stirring up his ale in high triumph. "Tall and short, native and foreign, sweethearts and wives—I know how to deal with 'em!"
Magdalen's third and last attempt at solving the mystery of the truckle-bed was made while she was waiting on the admiral at dinner. The old gentleman's questions gave her an opportunity of referring to the subject, without any appearance of presumption or disrespect; but he proved to be quite as impenetrable, in his way, as old Mazey and Mrs. Drake had been in theirs. "It doesn't concern you, my dear," said the admiral, bluntly. "Don't be curious. Look in your Old Testament when you go downstairs, and see what happened in the Garden of Eden through curiosity. Be a good girl, and don't imitate your mother Eve."
Late at night, as Magdalen passed the end of the second-floor passage, proceeding alone on her way up to her own room, she stopped and listened. A screen was placed at the entrance of the corridor, so as to hide it from the view of persons passing on the stairs. The snoring she heard on the other side of the screen encouraged her to slip round it, and to advance a few steps. Shading the light of her candle with her hand, she ventured close to the admiral's door, and saw, to her surprise, that the bed had been moved since she had seen it in the day-time, so as to stand exactly across the door, and to bar the way entirely to any one who might attempt to enter the admiral's room. After this discovery, old Mazey himself, snoring lustily, with the red fisherman's cap pulled down to his eyebrows, and the blankets drawn up to his nose, became an object of secondary importance only, by comparison with his bed. That the veteran did actually sleep on guard before his master's door, and that he and the admiral and the housekeeper were in the secret of this unaccountable proceeding, was now beyond all doubt.
"A strange end," thought Magdalen, pondering over her discovery as she stole upstairs to her own sleeping-room—"a strange end to a strange day!"
THE first week passed, the second week passed, and Magdalen was, to all appearance, no nearer to the discovery of the Secret Trust than on the day when she first entered on her service at St. Crux.
But the fortnight, uneventful as it was, had not been a fortnight lost. Experience had already satisfied her on one important point—experience had shown that she could set the rooted distrust of the other servants safely at defiance. Time had accustomed the women to her presence in the house, without shaking the vague conviction which possessed them all alike, that the newcomer was not one of themselves. All that Magdalen could do in her own defense was to keep the instinctive female suspicion of her confined within those purely negative limits which it had occupied from the first, and this she accomplished.
Day after day the women watched her with the untiring vigilance of malice and distrust, and day after day not the vestige of a discovery rewarded them for their pains. Silently, intelligently, and industriously—with an ever-present remembrance of herself and her place—the new parlor-maid did her work. Her only intervals of rest and relaxation were the intervals passed occasionally in the day with old Mazey and the dogs, and the precious interval of the night during which she was secure from observation in the solitude of her room. Thanks to the superfluity of bed-chambers at St. Crux, each one of the servants had the choice, if she pleased, of sleeping in a room of her own. Alone in the night, Magdalen might dare to be herself again—might dream of the past, and wake from the dream, encountering no curious eyes to notice that she was in tears—might ponder over the future, and be roused by no whisperings in corners, which tainted her with the suspicion of "having something on her mind."
Satisfied, thus far, of the perfect security of her position in the house, she profited next by a second chance in her favor, which—before the fortnight was at an end—relieved her mind of all doubt on the formidable subject of Mrs. Lecount.
Partly from the accidental gossip of the women at the table in the servants' hall; partly from a marked paragraph in a Swiss newspaper, which she had found one morning lying open on the admiral's easy-chair—she gained the welcome assurance that no danger was to be dreaded, this time, from the housekeeper's presence on the scene. Mrs. Lecount had, as it appeared, passed a week or more at St. Crux after the date of her master's death, and had then left England, to live on the interest of her legacy, in honorable and prosperous retirement, in her native place. The paragraph in the Swiss newspaper described the fulfillment of this laudable project. Mrs. Lecount had not only established herself at Zurich, but (wisely mindful of the uncertainty of life) had also settled the charitable uses to which her fortune was to be applied after her death. One half of it was to go to the founding of a "Lecompte Scholarship" for poor students in the University of Geneva. The other half was to be employed by the municipal authorities of Zurich in the maintenance and education of a certain number of orphan girls, natives of the city, who were to be trained for domestic service in later life. The Swiss journalist adverted to these philanthropic bequests in terms of extravagant eulogy. Zurich was congratulated on the possession of a Paragon of public virtue; and William Tell, in the character of benefactor to Switzerland, was compared disadvantageously with Mrs. Lecount.
The third week began, and Magdalen was now at liberty to take her first step forward on the way to the discovery of the Secret Trust.
She ascertained from old Mazey that it was his master's custom, during the winter and spring months, to occupy the rooms in the north wing; and during the summer and autumn to cross the Arctic passage of "Freeze-your-Bones," and live in the eastward apartments which looked out on the garden. While the Banqueting-Hall remained—owing to the admiral's inadequate pecuniary resources—in its damp and dismantled state, and while the interior of St. Crux was thus comfortlessly divided into two separate residences, no more convenient arrangement than this could well have been devised. Now and then (as Magdalen understood from her informant) there were days, both in winter and summer, when the admiral became anxious about the condition of the rooms which he was not occupying at the time, and when he insisted on investigating the state of the furniture, the pictures, and the books with his own eyes. On these occasions, in summer as in winter, a blazing fire was kindled for some days previously in the large grate, and the charcoal was lighted in the tripod-pan, to keep the Banqueting-Hall as warm as circumstances would admit. As soon as the old gentleman's anxieties were set at rest the rooms were shut up again, and "Freeze-your-Bones" was once more abandoned for weeks and weeks together to damp, desolation, and decay. The last of these temporary migrations had taken place only a few days since; the admiral had satisfied himself that the rooms in the east wing were none the worse for the absence of their master, and he might now be safely reckoned on as settled in the north wing for weeks, and perhaps, if the season was cold, for months to come.
Trifling as they might be in themselves, these particulars were of serious importance to Magdalen, for they helped her to fix the limits of the field of search. Assuming that the admiral was likely to keep all his important documents within easy reach of his own hand, she might now feel certain that the Secret Trust was secured in one or other of the rooms in the north wing.
In which room? That question was not easy to answer.
Of the four inhabitable rooms which were all at the admiral's disposal during the day—that is to say, of the dining-room, the library, the morning-room, and the drawing-room opening out of the vestibule—the library appeared to be the apartment in which, if he had a preference, he passed the greater part of his time. There was a table in this room, with drawers that locked; there was a magnificent Italian cabinet, with doors that locked; there were five cupboards under the book-cases, every one of which locked. There were receptacles similarly secured in the other rooms; and in all or any of these papers might be kept.
She had answered the bell, and had seen him locking and unlocking, now in one room, now in another, but oftenest in the library. She had noticed occasionally that his expression was fretful and impatient when he looked round at her from an open cabinet or cupboard and gave his orders; and she inferred that something in connection with his papers and possessions—it might or might not be the Secret Trust—irritated and annoyed him from time to time. She had heard him more than once lock something up in one of the rooms, come out and go into another room, wait there a few minutes, then return to the first room with his keys in his hand, and sharply turn the locks and turn them again. This fidgety anxiety about his keys and his cupboards might be the result of the inbred restlessness of his disposition, aggravated in a naturally active man by the aimless indolence of a life in retirement—a life drifting backward and forward among trifles, with no regular employment to steady it at any given hour of the day. On the other hand, it was just as probable that these comings and goings, these lockings and unlockings, might be attributable to the existence of some private responsibility which had unexpectedly intruded itself into the old man's easy existence, and which tormented him with a sense of oppression new to the experience of his later years. Either one of these interpretations might explain his conduct as reasonably and as probably as the other. Which was the right interpretation of the two, it was, in Magdalen's position, impossible to say.
The one certain discovery at which she arrived was made in her first day's observation of him. The admiral was a rigidly careful man with his keys.
All the smaller keys he kept on a ring in the breast-pocket of his coat. The larger he locked up together; generally, but not always, in one of the drawers of the library table. Sometimes he left them secured in this way at night; sometimes he took them up to the bedroom with him in a little basket. He had no regular times for leaving them or for taking them away with him; he had no discoverable reason for now securing them in the library-table drawer, and now again locking them up in some other place. The inveterate willfulness and caprice of his proceedings in these particulars defied every effort to reduce them to a system, and baffled all attempts at calculating on them beforehand.
The hope of gaining positive information to act on, by laying artful snares for him which he might fall into in his talk, proved, from the outset, to be utterly futile.
In Magdalen's situation all experiments of this sort would have been in the last degree difficult and dangerous with any man. With the admiral they were simply impossible. His tendency to veer about from one subject to another; his habit of keeping his tongue perpetually going, so long as there was anybody, no matter whom, within reach of the sound of his voice; his comical want of all dignity and reserve with his servants, promised, in appearance, much, and performed in reality nothing. No matter how diffidently or how respectfully Magdalen might presume on her master's example, and on her master's evident liking for her, the old man instantly discovered the advance she was making from her proper position, and instantly put her back in it again, with a quaint good humor which inflicted no pain, but with a blunt straightforwardness of purpose which permitted no escape. Contradictory as it may sound, Admiral Bartram was too familiar to be approached; he kept the distance between himself and his servant more effectually than if he had been the proudest man in England. The systematic reserve of a superior toward an inferior may be occasionally overcome—the systematic familiarity never.
Slowly the time dragged on. The fourth week came; and Magdalen had made no new discoveries. The prospect was depressing in the last degree. Even in the apparently hopeless event of her devising a means of getting at the admiral's keys, she could not count on retaining possession of them unsuspected more than a few hours—hours which might be utterly wasted through her not knowing in what direction to begin the search. The Trust might be locked up in any one of some twenty receptacles for papers, situated in four different rooms; and which room was the likeliest to look in, which receptacle was the most promising to begin with, which position among other heaps of papers the one paper needful might be expected to occupy, was more than she could say. Hemmed in by immeasurable uncertainties on every side; condemned, as it were, to wander blindfold on the very brink of success, she waited for the chance that never came, for the event that never happened, with a patience which was sinking already into the patience of despair.
Night after night she looked back over the vanished days, and not an event rose on her memory to distinguish them one from the other. The only interruptions to the weary uniformity of the life at St. Crux were caused by the characteristic delinquencies of old Mazey and the dogs.
At certain intervals, the original wildness broke out in the natures of Brutus and Cassius. The modest comforts of home, the savory charms of made dishes, the decorous joy of digestions accomplished on hearth-rugs, lost all their attractions, and the dogs ungratefully left the house to seek dissipation and adventure in the outer world. On these occasions the established after-dinner formula of question and answer between old Mazey and his master varied a little in one particular. "God bless the Queen, Mazey," and "How's the wind, Mazey?" were followed by a new inquiry: "Where are the dogs, Mazey?" "Out on the loose, your honor, and be damned to 'em," was the veteran's unvarying answer. The admiral always sighed and shook his head gravely at the news, as if Brutus and Cassius had been sons of his own, who treated him with a want of proper filial respect. In two or three days' time the dogs always returned, lean, dirty, and heartily ashamed of themselves. For the whole of the next day they were invariably tied up in disgrace. On the day after they were scrubbed clean, and were formally re-admitted to the dining-room. There, Civilization, acting through the subtle medium of the Saucepan, recovered its hold on them; and the admiral's two prodigal sons, when they saw the covers removed, watered at the mouth as copiously as ever.