"You did right, sir," said Miss Garth; "I understand your motives, and respect them."
"My last attempt to provide for the daughters," continued Mr. Pendril, "was, as you know, rendered unavailing by the dangerous nature of Mrs. Vanstone's illness. Her death left the infant who survived her by a few hours (the infant born, you will remember, in lawful wedlock) possessed, in due legal course, of the whole of Mr. Vanstone's fortune. On the child's death—if it had only outlived the mother by a few seconds, instead of a few hours, the result would have been the same—the next of kin to the legitimate offspring took the money; and that next of kin is the infant's paternal uncle, Michael Vanstone. The whole fortune of eighty thousand pounds has virtually passed into his possession already."
"Are there no other relations?" asked Miss Garth. "Is there no hope from any one else?"
"There are no other relations with Michael Vanstone's claim," said the lawyer. "There are no grandfathers or grandmothers of the dead child (on the side of either of the parents) now alive. It was not likely there should be, considering the ages of Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone when they died. But it is a misfortune to be reasonably lamented that no other uncles or aunts survive. There are cousins alive; a son and two daughters of that elder sister of Mr. Vanstone's, who married Archdeacon Bartram, and who died, as I told you, some years since. But their interest is superseded by the interest of the nearer blood. No, Miss Garth, we must look facts as they are resolutely in the face. Mr. Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's Children; and the law leaves them helpless at their uncle's mercy."
"A cruel law, Mr. Pendril—a cruel law in a Christian country."
"Cruel as it is, Miss Garth, it stands excused by a shocking peculiarity in this case. I am far from defending the law of England as it affects illegitimate offspring. On the contrary, I think it a disgrace to the nation. It visits the sins of the parents on the children; it encourages vice by depriving fathers and mothers of the strongest of all motives for making the atonement of marriage; and it claims to produce these two abominable results in the names of morality and religion. But it has no extraordinary oppression to answer for in the case of these unhappy girls. The more merciful and Christian law of other countries, which allows the marriage of the parents to make the children legitimate, has no mercy on these children. The accident of their father having been married, when he first met with their mother, has made them the outcasts of the whole social community; it has placed them out of the pale of the Civil Law of Europe. I tell you the hard truth—it is useless to disguise it. There is no hope, if we look back at the past: there may be hope, if we look on to the future. The best service which I can now render you is to shorten the period of your suspense. In less than an hour I shall be on my way back to London. Immediately on my arrival, I will ascertain the speediest means of communicating with Mr. Michael Vanstone; and will let you know the result. Sad as the position of the two sisters now is, we must look at it on its best side; we must not lose hope."
"Hope?" repeated Miss Garth. "Hope from Michael Vanstone!"
"Yes; hope from the influence on him of time, if not from the influence of mercy. As I have already told you, he is now an old man; he cannot, in the course of nature, expect to live much longer. If he looks back to the period when he and his brother were first at variance, he must look back through thirty years. Surely, these are softening influences which must affect any man? Surely, his own knowledge of the shocking circumstances under which he has become possessed of this money will plead with him, if nothing else does?"
"I will try to think as you do, Mr. Pendril—I will try to hope for the best. Shall we be left long in suspense before the decision reaches us?"
"I trust not. The only delay on my side will be caused by the necessity of discovering the place of Michael Vanstone's residence on the Continent. I think I have the means of meeting this difficulty successfully; and the moment I reach London, those means shall be tried."
He took up his hat; and then returned to the table on which the father's last letter, and the father's useless will, were lying side by side. After a moment's consideration, he placed them both in Miss Garth's hands.
"It may help you in breaking the hard truth to the orphan sisters," he said, in his quiet, self-repressed way, "if they can see how their father refers to them in his will—if they ca n read his letter to me, the last he ever wrote. Let these tokens tell them that the one idea of their father's life was the idea of making atonement to his children. 'They may think bitterly of their birth,' he said to me, at the time when I drew this useless will; 'but they shall never think bitterly of me. I will cross them in nothing: they shall never know a sorrow that I can spare them, or a want which I will not satisfy.' He made me put those words in his will, to plead for him when the truth which he had concealed from his children in his lifetime was revealed to them after his death. No law can deprive his daughters of the legacy of his repentance and his love. I leave the will and the letter to help you: I give them both into your care."
He saw how his parting kindness touched her and thoughtfully hastened the farewell. She took his hand in both her own and murmured a few broken words of gratitude. "Trust me to do my best," he said—and, turning away with a merciful abruptness, left her. In the broad, cheerful sunshine he had come in to reveal the fatal truth. In the broad, cheerful sunshine—that truth disclosed—he went out.
IT was nearly an hour past noon when Mr. Pendril left the house. Miss Garth sat down again at the table alone, and tried to face the necessity which the event of the morning now forced on her.
Her mind was not equal to the effort. She tried to lessen the strain on it—to lose the sense of her own position—to escape from her thoughts for a few minutes only. After a little, she opened Mr. Vanstone's letter, and mechanically set herself to read it through once more.
One by one, the last words of the dead man fastened themselves more and more firmly on her attention. The unrelieved solitude, the unbroken silence, helped their influence on her mind and opened it to those very impressions of past and present which she was most anxious to shun. As she reached the melancholy lines which closed the letter, she found herself—insensibly, almost unconsciously, at first—tracing the fatal chain of events, link by link backward, until she reached its beginning in the contemplated marriage between Magdalen and Francis Clare.
That marriage had taken Mr. Vanstone to his old friend, with the confession on his lips which would otherwise never have escaped them. Thence came the discovery which had sent him home to summon the lawyer to the house. That summons, again, had produced the inevitable acceleration of the Saturday's journey to Friday; the Friday of the fatal accident, the Friday when he went to his death. From his death followed the second bereavement which had made the house desolate; the helpless position of the daughters whose prosperous future had been his dearest care; the revelation of the secret which had overwhelmed her that morning; the disclosure, more terrible still, which she now stood committed to make to the orphan sisters. For the first time she saw the whole sequence of events—saw it as plainly as the cloudless blue of the sky and the green glow of the trees in the sunlight outside.
How—when could she tell them? Who could approach them with the disclosure of their own illegitimacy before their father and mother had been dead a week? Who could speak the dreadful words, while the first tears were wet on their cheeks, while the first pang of separation was at its keenest in their hearts, while the memory of the funeral was not a day old yet? Not their last friend left; not the faithful woman whose heart bled for them. No! silence for the present time, at all risks—merciful silence, for many days to come!
She left the room, with the will and the letter in her hand—with the natural, human pity at her heart which sealed her lips and shut her eyes resolutely to the future. In the hall she stopped and listened. Not a sound was audible. She softly ascended the stairs, on her way to her own room, and passed the door of Norah's bed-chamber. Voices inside, the voices of the two sisters, caught her ear. After a moment's consideration, she checked herself, turned back, and quickly descended the stairs again. Both Norah and Magdalen knew of the interview between Mr. Pendril and herself; she had felt it her duty to show them his letter making the appointment. Could she excite their suspicion by locking herself up from them in her room as soon as the lawyer had left the house? Her hand trembled on the banister; she felt that her face might betray her. The self-forgetful fortitude, which had never failed her until that day, had been tried once too often—had been tasked beyond its powers at last.
At the hall door she reflected for a moment again, and went into the garden; directing her steps to a rustic bench and table placed out of sight of the house among the trees. In past times she had often sat there, with Mrs. Vanstone on one side, with Norah on the other, with Magdalen and the dogs romping on the grass. Alone she sat there now—the will and the letter which she dared not trust out of her own possession, laid on the table—her head bowed over them; her face hidden in her hands. Alone she sat there and tried to rouse her sinking courage.
Doubts thronged on her of the dark days to come; dread beset her of the hidden danger which her own silence toward Norah and Magdalen might store up in the near future. The accident of a moment might suddenly reveal the truth. Mr. Pendril might write, might personally address himself to the sisters, in the natural conviction that she had enlightened them. Complications might gather round them at a moment's notice; unforeseen necessities might arise for immediately leaving the house. She saw all these perils—and still the cruel courage to face the worst, and speak, was as far from her as ever. Ere long the thickening conflict of her thoughts forced its way outward for relief, in words and actions. She raised her head and beat her hand helplessly on the table.
"God help me, what am I to do?" she broke out. "How am I to tell them?"
"There is no need to tell them," said a voice behind her. "They know it already."
She started to her feet and looked round. It was Magdalen who stood before her—Magdalen who had spoken those words.
Yes, there was the graceful figure, in its mourning garments, standing out tall and black and motionless against the leafy background. There was Magdalen herself, with a changeless stillness on her white face; with an icy resignation in her steady gray eyes.
"We know it already," she repeated, in clear, measured tones. "Mr. Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's Children; and the law leaves them helpless at their uncle's mercy."
So, without a tear on her cheeks, without a faltering tone in her voice, she repeated the lawyer's own words, exactly as he had spoken them. Miss Garth staggered back a step and caught at the bench to support herself. Her head swam; she closed her eyes in a momentary faintness. When they opened again, Magdalen's arm was supporting her, Magdalen's breath fanned her cheek, Magdalen's cold lips kissed her. She drew back from the kiss; the touch of the girl's lips thrilled her with terror.
As soon as she could speak she put the inevitable question. "You heard us," she said. "Where?"
"Under the open window."
"All the time?"
"From beginning to end."
She had listened—this girl of eighteen, in the first week of her orphanage, had listened to the whole terrible revelation, word by word, as it fell from the lawyer's lips; and had never once betrayed herself! From first to last, the only movements which had escaped her had been movements guarded enough and slight enough to be mistaken for the passage of the summer breeze through the leaves!
"Don't try to speak yet," she said, in softer and gentler tones. "Don't look at me with those doubting eyes. What wrong have I done? When Mr. Pendril wished to speak to you about Norah and me, his letter gave us our choice to be present at the interview, or to keep away. If my elder sister decided to keep away, how could I come? How could I hear my own story except as I did? My listening has done no harm. It has done good—it has saved you the distress of speaking to us. You have suffered enough for us already; it is time we learned to suffer for ourselves. I have learned. And Norah is learning."
"Yes. I have done all I could to spare you. I have told Norah."
She had told Norah! Was this girl, whose courage had faced the terrible necessity from which a woman old enough to be her mother had recoiled, the girl Miss Garth had brought up? the girl whose nature she had believed to be as well known to her as her own?
"Magdalen!" she cried out, passionately, "you frighten me!"
Magdalen only sighed, and turned wearily away.
"Try not to think worse of me than I deserve," she said. "I can't cry. My heart is numbed."
She moved away slowly over the grass. Miss Garth watched the tall black figure gliding away alone until it was lost among the trees. While it was in sight she could think of nothing else. The moment it was gone, she thought of Norah. For the first time in her experience of the sisters her heart led her instinctively to the elder of the two.
Norah was still in her own room. She was sitting on the couch by the window, with her mother's old music-book—the keepsake which Mrs. Vanstone had found in her husband's study on the day of her husband's death—spread open on her lap. She looked up from it with such quiet sorrow, and pointed with such ready kindness to the vacant place at her side, that Miss Garth doubted for the moment whether Magdalen had spoken the truth. "See," said Norah, simply, turning to the first leaf in the music-book—"my mother's name written in it, and some verses to my father on the next page. We may keep this for ourselves, if we keep nothing else." She put her arm round Miss Garth's neck, and a faint tinge of color stole over her cheeks. "I see anxious thoughts in your face," she whispered. "Are you anxious about me? Are you doubting whether I have heard it? I have heard the whole truth. I might have felt it bitterly, later; it is too soon to feel it now. You have seen Magdalen? She went out to find you—where did you leave her?"
"In the garden. I couldn't speak to her; I couldn't look at her. Magdalen has frightened me."
Norah rose hurriedly; rose, startled and distressed by Miss Garth's reply.
"Don't think ill of Magdalen," she said. "Magdalen suffers in secret more than I do. Try not to grieve over what you have heard about us this morning. Does it matter who we are, or what we keep or lose? What loss is there for us after the loss of our father and mother? Oh, Miss Garth, there is the only bitterness! What did we remember of them when we laid them in the grave yesterday? Nothing but the love they gave us—the love we must never hope for again. What else can we remember to-day? What change can the world, and the world's cruel laws make in our memory of the kindest father, the kindest mother, that children ever had!" She stopped: struggled with her rising grief; and quietly, resolutely, kept it down. "Will you wait here," she said, "while I go and bring Magdalen back? Magdalen was always your favorite: I want her to be your favorite still." She laid the music-book gently on Miss Garth's lap—and left the room.
"Magdalen was always your favorite."
Tenderly as they had been spoken, those words fell reproachfully on Miss Garth's ear. For the first time in the long companionship of her pupils and herself a doubt whether she, and all those about her, had not been fatally mistaken in their relative estimate of the sisters, now forced itself on her mind.
She had studied the natures of her two pupils in the daily intimacy of twelve years. Those natures, which she believed herself to have sounded through all their depths, had been suddenly tried in the sharp ordeal of affliction. How had they come out from the test? As her previous experience had prepared her to see them? No: in flat contradiction to it.
What did such a result as this imply?
Thoughts came to her, as she asked herself that question, which have startled and saddened us all.
Does there exist in every human being, beneath that outward and visible character which is shaped into form by the social influences surrounding us, an inward, invisible disposition, which is part of ourselves, which education may indirectly modify, but can never hope to change? Is the philosophy which denies this and asserts that we are born with dispositions like blank sheets of paper a philosophy which has failed to remark that we are not born with blank faces—a philosophy which has never compared together two infants of a few days old, and has never observed that those infants are not born with blank tempers for mothers and nurses to fill up at will? Are there, infinitely varying with each individual, inbred forces of Good and Evil in all of us, deep down below the reach of mortal encouragement and mortal repression—hidden Good and hidden Evil, both alike at the mercy of the liberating opportunity and the sufficient temptation? Within these earthly limits, is earthly Circumstance ever the key; and can no human vigilance warn us beforehand of the forces imprisoned in ourselves which that key may unlock?
For the first time, thoughts such as these rose darkly—as shadowy and terrible possibilities—in Miss Garth's mind. For the first time, she associated those possibilities with the past conduct and characters, with the future lives and fortunes of the orphan sisters.
Searching, as in a glass darkly, into the two natures, she felt her way, doubt by doubt, from one possible truth to another. It might be that the upper surface of their characters was all that she had, thus far, plainly seen in Norah and Magdalen. It might be that the unalluring secrecy and reserve of one sister, the all-attractive openness and high spirits of the other, were more or less referable, in each case, to those physical causes which work toward the production of moral results. It might be, that under the surface so formed—a surface which there had been nothing, hitherto, in the happy, prosperous, uneventful lives of the sisters to disturb—forces of inborn and inbred disposition had remained concealed, which the shock of the first serious calamity in their lives had now thrown up into view. Was this so? Was the promise of the future shining with prophetic light through the surface-shadow of Norah's reserve, and darkening with prophetic gloom, under the surface-glitter of Magdalen's bright spirits? If the life of the elder sister was destined henceforth to be the ripening ground of the undeveloped Good that was in her-was the life of the younger doomed to be the battle-field of mortal conflict with the roused forces of Evil in herself?
On the brink of that terrible conclusion, Miss Garth shrank back in dismay. Her heart was the heart of a true woman. It accepted the conviction which raised Norah higher in her love: it rejected the doubt which threatened to place Magdalen lower. She rose and paced the room impatiently; she recoiled with an angry suddenness from the whole train of thought in which her mind had been engaged but the moment before. What if there were dangerous elements in the strength of Magdalen's character—was it not her duty to help the girl against herself? How had she performed that duty? She had let herself be governed by first fears and first impressions; she had never waited to consider whether Magdalen's openly acknowledged action of that morning might not imply a self-sacrificing fortitude, which promised, in after-life, the noblest and the most enduring results. She had let Norah go and speak those words of tender remonstrance, which she should first have spoken herself. "Oh!" she thought, bitterly, "how long I have lived in the world, and how little I have known of my own weakness and wickedness until to-day!"
The door of the room opened. Norah came in, as she had gone out, alone.
"Do you remember leaving anything on the little table by the garden-seat?" she asked, quietly.
Before Miss Garth could answer the question, she held out her father's will and her father's letter.
"Magdalen came back after you went away," she said, "and found these last relics. She heard Mr. Pendril say they were her legacy and mine. When I went into the garden she was reading the letter. There was no need for me to speak to her; our father had spoken to her from his grave. See how she has listened to him!"
She pointed to the letter. The traces of heavy tear-drops lay thick over the last lines of the dead man's writing.
"Her tears," said Norah, softly.
Miss Garth's head drooped low over the mute revelation of Magdalen's return to her better self.
"Oh, never doubt her again!" pleaded Norah. "We are alone now—we have our hard way through the world to walk on as patiently as we can. If Magdalen ever falters and turns back, help her for the love of old times; help her against herself."
"With all my heart and strength—as God shall judge me, with the devotion of my whole life!" In those fervent words Miss Garth answered. She took the hand which Norah held out to her, and put it, in sorrow and humility, to her lips. "Oh, my love, forgive me! I have been miserably blind—I have never valued you as I ought!"
Norah gently checked her before she could say more; gently whispered, "Come with me into the garden—come, and help Magdalen to look patiently to the future."
The future! Who could see the faintest glimmer of it? Who could see anything but the ill-omened figure of Michael Vanstone, posted darkly on the verge of the present time—and closing all the prospect that lay beyond him?
ON the next morning but one, news was received from Mr. Pendril. The place of Michael Vanstone's residence on the Continent had been discovered. He was living at Zurich; and a letter had been dispatched to him, at that place, on the day when the information was obtained. In the course of the coming week an answer might be expected, and the purport of it should be communicated forthwith to the ladies at Combe-Raven.
Short as it was, the interval of delay passed wearily. Ten days elapsed before the expected answer was received; and when it came at last, it proved to be, strictly speaking, no answer at all. Mr. Pendril had been merely referred to an agent in London who was in possession of Michael Vanstone's instructions. Certain difficulties had been discovered in connection with those instructions, which had produced the necessity of once more writing to Zurich. And there "the negotiations" rested again for the present.
A second paragraph in Mr. Pendril's letter contained another piece of intelligence entirely new. Mr. Michael Vanstone's son (and only child), Mr. Noel Vanstone, had recently arrived in London, and was then staying in lodgings occupied by his cousin, Mr. George Bartram. Professional considerations had induced Mr. Pendril to pay a visit to the lodgings. He had been very kindly received by Mr. Bartram; but had been informed by that gentleman that his cousin was not then in a condition to receive visitors. Mr. Noel Vanstone had been suffering, for some years past, from a wearing and obstinate malady; he had come to England expressly to obtain the best medical advice, and he still felt the fatigue of the journey so severely as to be confined to his bed. Under these circumstances, Mr. Pendril had no alternative but to take his leave. An interview with Mr. Noel Vanstone might have cleared up some of the difficulties in connection with his father's instructions. As events had turned out, there was no help for it but to wait for a few days more.
The days passed, the empty days of solitude and suspense. At last, a third letter from the lawyer announced the long delayed conclusion of the correspondence. The final answer had been received from Zurich, and Mr. Pendril would personally communicate it at Combe-Raven on the afternoon of the next day.
That next day was Wednesday, the twelfth of August. The weather had changed in the night; and the sun rose watery through mist and cloud. By noon the sky was overcast at all points; the temperature was sensibly colder; and the rain poured down, straight and soft and steady, on the thirsty earth. Toward three o'clock, Miss Garth and Norah entered the morning-room, to await Mr. Pendril's arrival. They were joined shortly afterward by Magdalen. In half an hour more the familiar fall of the iron latch in the socket reached their ears from the fence beyond the shrubbery. Mr. Pendril and Mr. Clare advanced into view along the garden-path, walking arm-in-arm through the rain, sheltered by the same umbrella. The lawyer bowed as they passed the windows; Mr. Clare walked straight on, deep in his own thoughts—noticing nothing.
After a delay which seemed interminable; after a weary scraping of wet feet on the hall mat; after a mysterious, muttered interchange of question and answer outside the door, the two came in—Mr. Clare leading the way. The old man walked straight up to the table, without any preliminary greeting, and looked across it at the three women, with a stern pity for them in his ragged, wrinkled face.
"Bad news," he said. "I am an enemy to all unnecessary suspense. Plainness is kindness in such a case as this. I mean to be kind—and I tell you plainly—bad news."
Mr. Pendril followed him. He shook hands, in silence, with Miss Garth and the two sisters, and took a seat near them. Mr. Clare placed himself apart on a chair by the window. The gray rainy light fell soft and sad on the faces of Norah and Magdalen, who sat together opposite to him. Miss Garth had placed herself a little behind them, in partial shadow; and the lawyer's quiet face was seen in profile, close beside her. So the four occupants of the room appeared to Mr. Clare, as he sat apart in his corner; his long claw-like fingers interlaced on his knee; his dark vigilant eyes fixed searchingly now on one face, now on another. The dripping rustle of the rain among the leaves, and the clear, ceaseless tick of the clock on the mantel-piece, made the minute of silence which followed the settling of the persons present in their places indescribably oppressive. It was a relief to every one when Mr. Pendril spoke.
"Mr. Clare has told you already," he began, "that I am the bearer of bad news. I am grieved to say, Miss Garth, that your doubts, when I last saw you, were better founded than my hopes. What that heartless elder brother was in his youth, he is still in his old age. In all my unhappy experience of the worst side of human nature, I have never met with a man so utterly dead to every consideration of mercy as Michael Vanstone."
"Do you mean that he takes the whole of his brother's fortune, and makes no provision whatever for his brother's children?" asked Miss Garth.
"He offers a sum of money for present emergencies," replied Mr. Pendril, "so meanly and disgracefully insufficient that I am ashamed to mention it."
"And nothing for the future?"
As that answer was given, the same thought passed, at the same moment, through Miss Garth's mind and through Norah's. The decision, which deprived both the sisters alike of the resources of fortune, did not end there for the younger of the two. Michael Vanstone's merciless resolution had virtually pronounced the sentence which dismissed Frank to China, and which destroyed all present hope of Magdalen's marriage. As the words passed the lawyer's lips, Miss Garth and Norah looked at Magdalen anxiously. Her face turned a shade paler—but not a feature of it moved; not a word escaped her. Norah, who held her sister's hand in her own, felt it tremble for a moment, and then turn cold—and that was all.
"Let me mention plainly what I have done," resumed Mr. Pendril; "I am very desirous you should not think that I have left any effort untried. When I wrote to Michael Vanstone, in the first instance, I did not confine myself to the usual formal statement. I put before him, plainly and earnestly, every one of the circumstances under which he has become possessed of his brother's fortune. When I received the answer, referring me to his written instructions to his lawyer in London—and when a copy of those instructions was placed in my hands—I positively declined, on becoming acquainted with them, to receive the writer's decision as final. I induce d the solicitor, on the other side, to accord us a further term of delay; I attempted to see Mr. Noel Vanstone in London for the purpose of obtaining his intercession; and, failing in that, I myself wrote to his father for the second time. The answer referred me, in insolently curt terms, to the instructions already communicated; declared those instructions to be final; and declined any further correspondence with me. There is the beginning and the end of the negotiation. If I have overlooked any means of touching this heartless man—tell me, and those means shall be tried."
He looked at Norah. She pressed her sister's hand encouragingly, and answered for both of them.
"I speak for my sister, as well as for myself," she said, with her color a little heightened, with her natural gentleness of manner just touched by a quiet, uncomplaining sadness. "You have done all that could be done, Mr. Pendril. We have tried to restrain ourselves from hoping too confidently; and we are deeply grateful for your kindness, at a time when kindness is sorely needed by both of us."
Magdalen's hand returned the pressure of her sister's—withdrew itself—trifled for a moment impatiently with the arrangement of her dress—then suddenly moved the chair closer to the table. Leaning one arm on it (with the hand fast clinched), she looked across at Mr. Pendril. Her face, always remarkable for its want of color, was now startling to contemplate, in its blank, bloodless pallor. But the light in her large gray eyes was bright and steady as ever; and her voice, though low in tone, was clear and resolute in accent as she addressed the lawyer in these terms:
"I understood you to say, Mr. Pendril, that my father's brother had sent his written orders to London, and that you had a copy. Have you preserved it?"
"Have you got it about you?"
"May I see it?"
Mr. Pendril hesitated, and looked uneasily from Magdalen to Miss Garth, and from Miss Garth back again to Magdalen.
"Pray oblige me by not pressing your request," he said. "It is surely enough that you know the result of the instructions. Why should you agitate yourself to no purpose by reading them? They are expressed so cruelly; they show such abominable want of feeling, that I really cannot prevail upon myself to let you see them."
"I am sensible of your kindness, Mr. Pendril, in wishing to spare me pain. But I can bear pain; I promise to distress nobody. Will you excuse me if I repeat my request?"
She held out her hand—the soft, white, virgin hand that had touched nothing to soil it or harden it yet.
"Oh, Magdalen, think again!" said Norah.
"You distress Mr. Pendril," added Miss Garth; "you distress us all."
"There can be no end gained," pleaded the lawyer—"forgive me for saying so—there can really be no useful end gained by my showing you the instructions."
("Fools!" said Mr. Clare to himself. "Have they no eyes to see that she means to have her own way?")
"Something tells me there is an end to be gained," persisted Magdalen. "This decision is a very serious one. It is more serious to me—" She looked round at Mr. Clare, who sat closely watching her, and instantly looked back again, with the first outward betrayal of emotion which had escaped her yet. "It is even more serious to me," she resumed, "for private reasons—than it is to my sister. I know nothing yet but that our father's brother has taken our fortunes from us. He must have some motives of his own for such conduct as that. It is not fair to him, or fair to us, to keep those motives concealed. He has deliberately robbed Norah, and robbed me; and I think we have a right, if we wish it, to know why?"
"I don't wish it," said Norah.
"I do," said Magdalen; and once more she held out her hand.
At this point Mr. Clare roused himself and interfered for the first time.
"You have relieved your conscience," he said, addressing the lawyer. "Give her the right she claims. It is her right—if she will have it."
Mr. Pendril quietly took the written instructions from his pocket. "I have warned you," he said—and handed the papers across the table without another word. One of the pages of writing—was folded down at the corner; and at that folded page the manuscript opened, when Magdalen first turned the leaves. "Is this the place which refers to my sister and myself?" she inquired. Mr. Pendril bowed; and Magdalen smoothed out the manuscript before her on the table.
"Will you decide, Norah?" she asked, turning to her sister. "Shall I read this aloud, or shall I read it to myself?"
"To yourself," said Miss Garth; answering for Norah, who looked at her in mute perplexity and distress.
"It shall be as you wish," said Magdalen. With that reply, she turned again to the manuscript and read these lines:
".... You are now in possession of my wishes in relation to the property in money, and to the sale of the furniture, carriages, horses, and so forth. The last point left on which it is necessary for me to instruct you refers to the persons inhabiting the house, and to certain preposterous claims on their behalf set up by a solicitor named Pendril; who has, no doubt, interested reasons of his own for making application to me.
"I understand that my late brother has left two illegitimate children; both of them young women, who are of an age to earn their own livelihood. Various considerations, all equally irregular, have been urged in respect to these persons by the solicitor representing them. Be so good as to tell him that neither you nor I have anything to do with questions of mere sentiment; and then state plainly, for his better information, what the motives are which regulate my conduct, and what the provision is which I feel myself justified in making for the two young women. Your instructions on both these points you will find detailed in the next paragraph.
"I wish the persons concerned to know, once for all, how I regard the circumstances which have placed my late brother's property at my disposal. Let them understand that I consider those circumstances to be a Providential interposition which has restored to me the inheritance that ought always to have been mine. I receive the money, not only as my right, but also as a proper compensation for the injustice which I suffered from my father, and a proper penalty paid by my younger brother for the vile intrigue by which he succeeded in disinheriting me. His conduct, when a young man, was uniformly discreditable in all the relations of life; and what it then was it continued to be (on the showing of his own legal representative) after the time when I ceased to hold any communication with him. He appears to have systematically imposed a woman on Society as his wife who was not his wife, and to have completed the outrage on morality by afterward marrying her. Such conduct as this has called down a Judgment on himself and his children. I will not invite retribution on my own head by assisting those children to continue the imposition which their parents practiced, and by helping them to take a place in the world to which they are not entitled. Let them, as becomes their birth, gain their bread in situations. If they show themselves disposed to accept their proper position I will assist them to start virtuously in life by a present of one hundred pounds each. This sum I authorize you to pay them, on their personal application, with the necessary acknowledgment of receipt; and on the express understanding that the transaction, so completed, is to be the beginning and the end of my connection with them. The arrangements under which they quit the house I leave to your discretion; and I have only to add that my decision on this matter, as on all other matters, is positive and final."
Line by line—without once looking up from the pages before her —Magdalen read those atrocious sentences through, from beginning to end. The other persons assembled in the room, all eagerly looking at her together, saw the dress rising and falling faster and faster over her bosom—saw the hand in which she lightly held the manuscript at the outset close unconsciously on the paper and crush it, as she advanced nearer and nearer to the end—but detected no other outward signs of what was passing within her. As soon as she had done, she silently pushed the manuscript away, and put her hands on a sudden over her face. When she withdrew them, all the four persons in the room noticed a change in her. Something in her expression had altered, subtly and silently; something which made the familiar features suddenly look strange, even to her sister and Miss Garth; something, through all after years, never to be forgotten in connection with that day—and never to be described.
The first words she spoke were addressed to Mr. Pendril.
"May I ask one more favor," she said, "before you enter on your business arrangements?"
Mr. Pendril replied ceremoniously by a gesture of assent. Magdalen's resolution to possess herself of the Instructions did not appear to have produced a favorable impression on the lawyer's mind.
"You mentioned what you were so kind as to do, in our interests, when you first wrote to Mr. Michael Vanstone," she continued. "You said you had told him all the circumstances. I want—if you will allow me—to be made quite sure of what he really knew about us—when he sent these orders to his lawyer. Did he know that my father had made a will, and that he had left our fortunes to my sister and myself?"
"He did know it," said Mr. Pendril.
"Did you tell him how it happened that we are left in this helpless position?"
"I told him that your father was entirely unaware, when he married, of the necessity for making another will."
"And that another will would have been made, after he saw Mr. Clare, but for the dreadful misfortune of his death?"
"He knew that also."
"Did he know that my father's untiring goodness and kindness to both of us—"
Her voice faltered for the first time: she sighed, and put her hand to her head wearily. Norah spoke entreatingly to her; Miss Garth spoke entreatingly to her; Mr. Clare sat silent, watching her more and more earnestly. She answered her sister's remonstrance with a faint smile. "I will keep my promise," she said; "I will distress nobody." With that reply, she turned again to Mr. Pendril; and steadily reiterated the question—but in another form of words.
"Did Mr. Michael Vanstone know that my father's great anxiety was to make sure of providing for my sister and myself?"
"He knew it in your father's own words. I sent him an extract from your father's last letter to me."
"The letter which asked you to come for God's sake, and relieve him from the dreadful thought that his daughters were unprovided for? The letter which said he should not rest in his grave if he left us disinherited?"
"That letter and those words."
She paused, still keeping her eyes steadily fixed on the lawyer's face.
"I want to fasten it all in my mind," she said "before I go on. Mr. Michael Vanstone knew of the first will; he knew what prevented the making of the second will; he knew of the letter and he read the words. What did he know of besides? Did you tell him of my mother's last illness? Did you say that her share in the money would have been left to us, if she could have lifted her dying hand in your presence? Did you try to make him ashamed of the cruel law which calls girls in our situation Nobody's Children, and which allows him to use us as he is using us now?"
"I put all those considerations to him. I left none of them doubtful; I left none of them out."
She slowly reached her hand to the copy of the Instructions, and slowly folded it up again, in the shape in which it had been presented to her. "I am much obliged to you, Mr. Pendril." With those words, she bowed, and gently pushed the manuscript back across the table; then turned to her sister.
"Norah," she said, "if we both of us live to grow old, and if you ever forget all that we owe to Michael Vanstone—come to me, and I will remind you."
She rose and walked across the room by herself to the window. As she passed Mr. Clare, the old man stretched out his claw-like fingers and caught her fast by the arm before she was aware of him.
"What is this mask of yours hiding?" he asked, forcing her to bend to him, and looking close into her face. "Which of the extremes of human temperature does your courage start from—the dead cold or the white hot?"
She shrank back from him and turned away her head in silence. She would have resented that unscrupulous intrusion on her own thoughts from any man alive but Frank's father. He dropped her arm as suddenly as he had taken it, and let her go on to the window. "No," he said to himself, "not the cold extreme, whatever else it may be. So much the worse for her, and for all belonging to her."
There was a momentary pause. Once more the dripping rustle of the rain and the steady ticking of the clock filled up the gap of silence. Mr. Pendril put the Instructions back in his pocket, considered a little, and, turning toward Norah and Miss Garth, recalled their attention to the present and pressing necessities of the time.
"Our consultation has been needlessly prolonged," he sail, "by painful references to the past. We shall be better employed in settling our arrangements for the future. I am obliged to return to town this evening. Pray let me hear how I can best assist you; pray tell me what trouble and what responsibility I can take off your hands."
For the moment, neither Norah nor Miss Garth seemed to be capable of answering him. Magdalen's reception of the news which annihilated the marriage prospect that her father's own lips had placed before her not a month since, had bewildered and dismayed them alike. They had summoned their courage to meet the shock of her passionate grief, or to face the harder trial of witnessing her speechless despair. But they were not prepared for her invincible resolution to read the Instructions; for the terrible questions which she had put to the lawyer; for her immovable determination to fix all the circumstances in her mind, under which Michael Vanstone's decision had been pronounced. There she stood at the window, an unfathomable mystery to the sister who had never been parted from her, to the governess who had trained her from a child. Miss Garth remembered the dark doubts which had crossed her mind on the day when she and Magdalen had met in the garden. Norah looked forward to the coming time, with the first serious dread of it on her sister's account which she had felt yet. Both had hitherto remained passive, in despair of knowing what to do. Both were now silent, in despair of knowing what to say.
Mr. Pendril patiently and kindly helped them, by returning to the subject of their future plans for the second time.
"I am sorry to press any business matters on your attention," he said, "when you are necessarily unfitted to deal with them. But I must take my instructions back to London with me to night. With reference, in the first place, to the disgraceful pecuniary offer, to which I have already alluded. The younger Miss Vanstone having read the Instructions, needs no further information from my lips. The elder will, I hope, excuse me if I tell her (what I should be ashamed to tell her, but that it is a matter of necessity), that Mr. Michael Vanstone's provision for his brother's children begins and ends with an offer to each of them of one hundred pounds."
Norah's face crimsoned with indignation. She started to her feet, as if Michael Vanstone had been present in the room, and had personally insulted her.
"I see," said the lawyer, wishing to spare her; "I may tell Mr. Michael Vanstone you refuse the money."
"Tell him," she broke out passionately, "if I was starving by the roadside, I wouldn't touch a farthing of it!"
"Shall I notify your refusal also?" asked Mr. Pendril, speaking to Magdalen next.
She turned round from the window—but kept her face in shadow, by standing close against it with her back to the light.
"Tell him, on my part," she said, "to think again before he starts me in life with a hundred pounds. I will give him time to think." She spoke those strange words with a marked emphasis; and turning back quickly to the window, hid her face from the observation of every one in the room.
"You both refuse the offer," said Mr. Pendril, taking out his pencil, and making his professional note of the decision. As he shut up his pocketbook, he glanced toward Magdalen doubtfully. She had roused in him the latent distrust which is a lawyer's second nature: he had his suspicions of her looks; he had his suspicions of her language. Her sister seemed to have mere influence over her than Miss Garth. He resolved to speak privately to her sister before he went away.
While the idea was passing through his mind, his attention was claimed by another question from Magdalen.
"Is he an old man?" she asked, suddenly, without turning round from the window.
"If you mean Mr. Michael Vanstone, he is seventy-five or seventy-six years of age."
"You spoke of his son a little while since. Has he any other sons—or daughters?"
"Do you know anything of his wife?"
"She has been dead for many years."
There was a pause. "Why do you ask these questions?" said Norah.
"I beg your pardon," replied Magdalen, quietly; "I won't ask any more."
For the third time, Mr. Pendril returned to the business of the interview.
"The servants must not be forgotten," he said. "They must be settled with and discharged: I will give them the necessary explanation before I leave. As for the house, no questions connected with it need trouble you. The carriages and horses, the furniture and plate, and so on, must simply be left on the premises to await Mr. Michael Vanstone's further orders. But any possessions, Miss Vanstone, personally belonging to you or to your sister—jewelry and dresses, and any little presents which may have been made to you—are entirely at your disposal. With regard to the time of your departure, I understand that a month or more will elapse before Mr. Michael Vanstone can leave Zurich; and I am sure I only do his solicitor justice in saying—"
"Excuse me, Mr. Pendril," interposed Norah; "I think I understand, from what you have just said, that our house and everything in it belongs to—?" She stopped, as if the mere utterance of the man's name was abhorrent to her.
"To Michael Vanstone," said Mr. Pendril. "The house goes to him with the rest of the property."
"Then I, for one, am ready to leave it tomorrow!"
Magdalen started at the window, as her sister spoke, and looked at Mr. Clare, with the first open signs of anxiety and alarm which she had shown yet.
"Don't be angry with me," she whispered, stooping over the old man with a sudden humility of look, and a sudden nervousness of manner. "I can't go without seeing Frank first!"
"You shall see him," replied Mr. Clare. "I am here to speak to you about it, when the business is done."
"It is quite unnecessary to hurry your departure, as you propose," continued Mr. Pendril, addressing Norah. "I can safely assure you that a week hence will be time enough."
"If this is Mr. Michael Vanstone's house," repeated Norah; "I am ready to leave it tomorrow."
She impatiently quitted her chair and seated herself further away on the sofa. As she laid her hand on the back of it, her face changed. There, at the head of the sofa, were the cushions which had supported her mother when she lay down for the last time to repose. There, at the foot of the sofa, was the clumsy, old-fashioned arm-chair, which had been her father's favorite seat on rainy days, when she and her sister used to amuse him at the piano opposite, by playing his favorite tunes. A heavy sigh, which she tried vainly to repress, burst from her lips. "Oh," she thought, "I had forgotten these old friends! How shall we part from them when the time comes!"
"May I inquire, Miss Vanstone, whether you and your sister have formed any definite plans for the future?" asked Mr. Pendril. "Have you thought of any place of residence?"
"I may take it on myself, sir," said Miss Garth, "to answer your question for them. When they leave this house, they leave it with me. My home is their home, and my bread is their bread. Their parents honored me, trusted me, and loved me. For twelve happy years they never let me remember that I was their governess; they only let me know myself as their companion and their friend. My memory of them is the memory of unvarying gentleness and generosity; and my life shall pay the debt of my gratitude to their orphan children."
Norah rose hastily from the sofa; Magdalen impetuously left the window. For once, there was no contrast in the conduct of the sisters. For once, the same impulse moved their hearts, the same earnest feeling inspired their words. Miss Garth waited until the first outburst of emotion had passed away; then rose, and, taking Norah and Magdalen each by the hand, addressed herself to Mr. Pendril and Mr. Clare. She spoke with perfect self-possession; strong in her artless unconsciousness of her own good action.
"Even such a trifle as my own story," she said, "is of some importance at such a moment as this. I wish you both, gentlemen, to understand that I am not promising more to the daughters of your old friend than I can perform. When I first came to this house, I entered it under such independent circumstances as are not common in the lives of governesses. In my younger days, I was associated in teaching with my elder sister: we established a school in London, which grew to be a large and prosperous one. I only left it, and became a private governess, because the heavy responsibility of the school was more than my strength could bear. I left my share in the profits untouched, and I possess a pecuniary interest in our establishment to this day. That is my story, in few words. When we leave this house, I propose that we shall go back to the school in London, which is still prosperously directed by my elder sister. We can live there as quietly as we please, until time has helped us to bear our affliction better than we can bear it now. If Norah's and Magdalen's altered prospects oblige them to earn their own independence, I can help them to earn it, as a gentleman's daughters should. The best families in this land are glad to ask my sister's advice where the interests of their children's home-training are concerned; and I answer, beforehand, for her hearty desire to serve Mr. Vanstone's daughters, as I answer for my own. That is the future which my gratitude to their father and mother, and my love for themselves, now offers to them. If you think my proposal, gentlemen, a fit and fair proposal—and I see in your faces that you do—let us not make the hard necessities of our position harder still, by any useless delay in meeting them at once. Let us do what we must do; let us act on Norah's decision, and leave this house to-morrow. You mentioned the servants just now, Mr. Pendril: I am ready to call them together in the next room, and to assist you in the settlement of their claims, whenever you please."
Without waiting for the lawyer's answer, without leaving the sisters time to realize their own terrible situation, she moved at once toward the door. It was her wise resolution to meet the coming trial by doing much and saying little. Before she could leave the room, Mr. Clare followed, and stopped her on the threshold.
"I never envied a woman's feelings before," said the old man. "It may surprise you to hear it; but I envy yours. Wait! I have something more to say. There is an obstacle still left—the everlasting obstacle of Frank. Help me to sweep him off. Take the elder sister along with you and the lawyer, and leave me here to have it out with the younger. I want to see what metal she's really made of."
While Mr. Clare was addressing these words to Miss Garth, Mr. Pendril had taken the opportunity of speaking to Norah. "Before I go back to town," he said, "I should like to have a word with you in private. From what has passed today, Miss Vanstone, I have formed a very high opinion of your discretion; and, as an old friend of your father's, I want to take the freedom of speaking to you about your sister."
Before Norah could answer, she was summoned, in compliance with Mr. Clare's request, to the conference with the servants. Mr. Pendril followed Miss Garth, as a matter of course. When the three were out in the hall, Mr. Clare re-entered the room, closed the door, and signed peremptorily to Magdalen to take a chair.
She obeyed him in silence. He took a turn up and down the room, with his hands in the side-pockets of the long, loose, shapeless coat which he habitually wore.
"How old are you?" he said, stopping suddenly, and speaking to her with the whole breadth of the room between them.
"I was eighteen last birthday," she answered, humbly, without looking up at him.
"You have shown extraordinary courage for a girl of eighteen. Have you got any of that courage left?"
She clasped her hands together, and wrung them hard. A few tears gathered in her eyes, and rolled slowly over her cheeks.
"I can't give Frank up," she said, faintly. "You don't care for me, I know; but you used to care for my father. Will you try to be kind to me for my father's sake?"
The last words died away in a whisper; she could say no more. Never had she felt the illimitable power which a woman's love possesses of absorbing into itself every other event, every other joy or sorrow of her life, as she felt it then. Never had she so tenderly associated Frank with the memory of her lost parents, as at that moment. Never had the impenetrable atmosphere of illusion through which women behold the man of their choice—the atmosphere which had blinded her to all that was weak, selfish, and mean in Frank's nature—surrounded him with a brighter halo than now, when she was pleading with the father for the possession of the son. "Oh, don't ask me to give him up!" she said, trying to take courage, and shuddering from head to foot. In the next instant, she flew to the opposite extreme, with the suddenness of a flash of lightning. "I won't give him up!" she burst out violently. "No! not if a thousand fathers ask me!"
"I am one father," said Mr. Clare. "And I don't ask you."
In the first astonishment and delight of hearing those unexpected words, she started to her feet, crossed the room, and tried to throw her arms round his neck. She might as well have attempted to move the house from its foundations. He took her by the shoulders and put her back in her chair. His inexorable eyes looked her into submission; and his lean forefinger shook at her warningly, as if he was quieting a fractious child.
"Hug Frank," he said; "don't hug me. I haven't done with you yet; when I have, you may shake hands with me, if you like. Wait, and compose yourself."
He left her. His hands went back into his pockets, and his monotonous march up and down the room began again.
"Ready?" he asked, stopping short after a while. She tried to answer. "Take two minutes more," he said, and resumed his walk with the regularity of clock-work. "These are the creatures," he thought to himself, "into whose keeping men otherwise sensible give the happiness of their lives. Is there any other object in creation, I wonder, which answers its end as badly as a woman does?"
He stopped before her once more. Her breathing was easier; the dark flush on her face was dying out again.
"Ready?" he repeated. "Yes; ready at last. Listen to me; and let's get it over. I don't ask you to give Frank up. I ask you to wait."
"I will wait," she said. "Patiently, willingly."
"Will you make Frank wait?"
"Will you send him to China?"
Her head drooped upon her bosom, and she clasped her hands again, in silence. Mr. Clare saw where the difficulty lay, and marched straight up to it on the spot.
"I don't pretend to enter into your feelings for Frank, or Frank's for you," he said. "The subject doesn't interest me. But I do pretend to state two plain truths. It is one plain truth that you can't be married till you have money enough to pay for the roof that shelters you, the clothes that cover you, and the victuals you eat. It is another plain truth that you can't find the money; that I can't find the money; and that Frank's only chance of finding it, is going to China. If I tell him to go, he'll sit in a corner and cry. If I insist, he'll say Yes, and deceive me. If I go a step further, and see him on board ship with my own eyes, he'll slip off in the pilot's boat, and sneak back secretly to you. That's his disposition."
"No!" said Magdalen. "It's not his disposition; it's his love for Me."
"Call it what you like," retorted Mr. Clare. "Sneak or Sweetheart —he's too slippery, in either capacity, for my fingers to hold him. My shutting the door won't keep him from coming back. Your shutting the door will. Have you the courage to shut it? Are you fond enough of him not to stand in his light?"
"Fond! I would die for him!"
"Will you send him to China?"
She sighed bitterly.
"Have a little pity for me," she said. "I have lost my father; I have lost my mother; I have lost my fortune—and now I am to lose Frank. You don't like women, I know; but try to help me with a little pity. I don't say it's not for his own interests to send him to China; I only say it's hard—very, very hard on me."
Mr. Clare had been deaf to her violence, insensible to her caresses, blind to her tears; but under the tough integument of his philosophy he had a heart—and it answered that hopeless appeal; it felt those touching words.
"I don't deny that your case is a hard one," he said. "I don't want to make it harder. I only ask you to do in Frank's interests what Frank is too weak to do for himself. It's no fault of yours; it's no fault of mine—but it's not the less true that the fortune you were to have brought him has changed owners."
She suddenly looked up, with a furtive light in her eyes, with a threatening smile on her lips.
"It may change owners again," she said.
Mr. Clare saw the alteration in her expression, and heard the tones of her voice. But the words were spoken low; spoken as if to herself—they failed to reach him across the breadth of the room. He stopped instantly in his walk and asked what she had said.
"Nothing," she answered, turning her head away toward the window, and looking out mechanically at the falling rain. "Only my own thoughts."
Mr. Clare resumed his walk, and returned to his subject.
"It's your interest," he went on, "as well as Frank's interest, that he should go. He may make money enough to marry you in China; he can't make it here. If he stops at home, he'll be the ruin of both of you. He'll shut his eyes to every consideration of prudence, and pester you to marry him; and when he has carried his point, he will be the first to turn round afterward and complain that you're a burden on him. Hear me out! You're in love with Frank—I'm not, and I know him. Put you two together often enough; give him time enough to hug, cry, pester, and plead; and I'll tell you what the end will be—you'll marry him."
He had touched the right string at last. It rung back in answer before he could add another word.
"You don't know me," she said, firmly. "You don't know what I can suffer for Frank's sake. He shall never marry me till I can be what my father said I should be—the making of his fortune. He shall take no burden, when he takes me; I promise you that! I'll be the good angel of Frank's life; I'll not go a penniless girl to him, and drag him down." She abruptly left her seat, advanced a few steps toward Mr. Clare, and stopped in the middle of the room. Her arms fell helpless on either side of her, and she burst into tears. "He shall go," she said. "If my heart breaks in doing it, I'll tell him to-morrow that we must say Good-by!"
Mr. Clare at once advanced to meet her, and held out his hand.
"I'll help you," he said. "Frank shall hear every word that has passed between us. When he comes to-morrow he shall know, beforehand, that he comes to say Good-by."
She took his hand in both her own—hesitated—looked at him—and pressed it to her bosom. "May I ask a favor of you, before you go?" she said, timidly. He tried to take his hand from her; but she knew her advantage, and held it fast. "Suppose there should be some change for the better?" she went on. "Sup pose I could come to Frank, as my fat her said I should come to him—?"
Before she could complete the question, Mr. Clare made a second effort and withdrew his hand. "As your father said you should come to him?" he repeated, looking at her attentively.
"Yes," she replied. "Strange things happen sometimes. If strange things happen to me will you let Frank come back before the five years are out?"
What did she mean? Was she clinging desperately to the hope of melting Michael Vanstone's heart? Mr. Clare could draw no other conclusion from what she had just said to him. At the beginning of the interview he would have roughly dispelled her delusion. At the end of the interview he left her compassionately in possession of it.
"You are hoping against all hope," he said; "but if it gives you courage, hope on. If this impossible good fortune of yours ever happens, tell me, and Frank shall come back. In the meantime—"
"In the meantime," she interposed sadly, "you have my promise."
Once more Mr. Clare's sharp eyes searched her face attentively.
"I will trust your promise," he said. "You shall see Frank to-morrow."
She went back thoughtfully to her chair, and sat down again in silence. Mr. Clare made for the door before any formal leave-taking could pass between them. "Deep!" he thought to himself, as he looked back at her before he went out; "only eighteen; and too deep for my sounding!"
In the hall he found Norah, waiting anxiously to hear what had happened.
"Is it all over?" she asked. "Does Frank go to China?"
"Be careful how you manage that sister of yours," said Mr. Clare, without noticing the question. "She has one great misfortune to contend with: she's not made for the ordinary jog-trot of a woman's life. I don't say I can see straight to the end of the good or evil in her—I only warn you, her future will be no common one."
An hour later, Mr. Pendril left the house; and, by that night's post, Miss Garth dispatched a letter to her sister in London.
THE END OF THE FIRST SCENE.
BETWEEN THE SCENES.
PROGRESS OF THE STORY THROUGH THE POST.
From Norah Vanstone to Mr. Pendril.
"Westmoreland House, Kensington,
"August 14th, 1846.
"DEAR MR. PENDRIL—The date of this letter will show you that the last of many hard partings is over. We have left Combe-Raven; we have said farewell to home.
"I have been thinking seriously of what you said to me on Wednesday, before you went back to town. I entirely agree with you that Miss Garth is more shaken by all she has gone through for our sakes than she is herself willing to admit; and that it is my duty, for the future, to spare her all the anxiety that I can on the subject of my sister and myself. This is very little to do for our dearest friend, for our second mother. Such as it is, I will do it with all my heart.
"But, forgive me for saying that I am as far as ever from agreeing with you about Magdalen. I am so sensible, in our helpless position, of the importance of your assistance; so anxious to be worthy of the interest of my father's trusted adviser and oldest friend, that I feel really and truly disappointed with myself for differing with you—and yet I do differ. Magdalen is very strange, very unaccountable, to those who don't know her intimately. I can understand that she has innocently misled you; and that she has presented herself, perhaps, under her least favorable aspect. But that the clew to her language and her conduct on Wednesday last is to be found in such a feeling toward the man who has ruined us, as the feeling at which you hinted, is what I can not and will not believe of my sister. If you knew, as I do, what a noble nature she has, you would not be surprised at this obstinate resistance of mine to your opinion. Will you try to alter it? I don't mind what Mr. Clare says; he believes in nothing. But I attach a very serious importance to what you say; and, kind as I know your motives to be, it distresses me to think you are doing Magdalen an injustice.
"Having relieved my mind of this confession, I may now come to the proper object of my letter. I promised, if you could not find leisure time to visit us to-day, to write and tell you all that happened after you left us. The day has passed without our seeing you. So I open my writing-case and perform my promise.
"I am sorry to say that three of the women-servants—the house-maid, the kitchen-maid, and even our own maid (to whom I am sure we have always been kind)—took advantage of your having paid them their wages to pack up and go as soon as your back was turned. They came to say good-by with as much ceremony and as little feeling as if they were leaving the house under ordinary circumstances. The cook, for all her violent temper, behaved very differently: she sent up a message to say that she would stop and help us to the last. And Thomas (who has never yet been in any other place than ours) spoke so gratefully of my dear father's unvarying kindness to him, and asked so anxiously to be allowed to go on serving us while his little savings lasted, that Magdalen and I forgot all formal considerations and both shook hands with him. The poor lad went out of the room crying. I wish him well; I hope he will find a kind master and a good place.
"The long, quiet, rainy evening out-of-doors—our last evening at Combe-Raven—was a sad trial to us. I think winter-time would have weighed less on our spirits; the drawn curtains and the bright lamps, and the companionable fires would have helped us. We were only five in the house altogether—after having once been so many! I can't tell you how dreary the gray daylight looked, toward seven o'clock, in the lonely rooms, and on the noiseless staircase. Surely, the prejudice in favor of long summer evenings is the prejudice of happy people? We did our best. We kept ourselves employed, and Miss Garth helped us. The prospect of preparing for our departure, which had seemed so dreadful earlier in the day, altered into the prospect of a refuge from ourselves as the evening came on. We each tried at first to pack up in our own rooms—but the loneliness was more than we could bear. We carried all our possessions downstairs, and heaped them on the large dining-table, and so made our preparations together in the same room. I am sure we have taken nothing away which does not properly belong to us.
"Having already mentioned to you my own conviction that Magdalen was not herself when you saw her on Wednesday, I feel tempted to stop here and give you an instance in proof of what I say. The little circumstance happened on Wednesday night, just before we went up to our rooms.
"After we had packed our dresses and our birthday presents, our books and our music, we began to sort our letters, which had got confused from being placed on the table together. Some of my letters were mixed with Magdalen's, and some of hers with mine. Among these last I found a card, which had been given to my sister early in the year by an actor who managed an amateur theatrical performance in which she took a part. The man had given her the card, containing his name and address, in the belief that she would be invited to many more amusements of the same kind, and in the hope that she would recommend him as a superintendent on future occasions. I only relate these trifling particulars to show you how little worth keeping such a card could be, in such circumstances as ours. Naturally enough, I threw it away from me across the table, meaning to throw it on the floor. It fell short, close to the place in which Magdalen was sitting. She took it up, looked at it, and immediately declared that she would not have had this perfectly worthless thing destroyed for the world. She was almost angry with me for having thrown it away; almost angry with Miss Garth for asking what she could possibly want with it! Could there be any plainer proof than this that our misfortunes—falling so much more heavily on her than on me—have quite unhinged her, and worn her out? Surely her words and looks are not to be interpreted against her, when she is not sufficiently mistress of herself to exert her natural judgment—when she shows the unreasonable petulance of a child on a question which is not of the slightest importance.
"A little after eleven we went upstairs to try if we could get some rest.
"I drew aside the curtain of my window and looked out. Oh, what a cruel last night it was: no moon, no stars; such deep darkness that not one of the dear familiar objects in the garden was visible when I looked for them; such deep stillness that even my own movements about the room almost frightened me! I tried to lie down and sleep, but the sense of loneliness came again and quite overpowered me. You will say I am old enough, at six-and-twenty, to have exerted more control over myself. I hardly know how it happened, but I stole into Magdalen's room, just as I used to steal into it years and years ago, when we were children. She was not in bed; she was sitting with her writing materials before her, thinking. I said I wanted to be with her the last night; and she kissed me, and told me to lie down, and promised soon to follow me. My mind was a little quieted and I fell asleep. It was daylight when I woke—and the first sight I saw was Magdalen, still sitting in the chair, and still thinking. She had never been to bed; she had not slept all through the night.
"'I shall sleep when we have left Combe-Raven,' she said. 'I shall be better when it is all over, and I have bid Frank good-by.' She had in her hand our father's will, and the letter he wrote to you; and when she had done speaking, she gave them into my possession. I was the eldest (she said), and those last precious relics ought to be in my keeping. I tried to propose to her that we should divide them; but she shook her head. 'I have copied for myself,' was her answer, 'all that he says of us in the will, and all that he says in the letter.' She told me this, and took from her bosom a tiny white silk bag, which she had made in the night, and in which she had put the extracts, so as to keep them always about her. 'This tells me in his own words what his last wishes were for both of us,' she said; 'and this is all I want for the future.'
"These are trifles to dwell on; and I am almost surprised at myself for not feeling ashamed to trouble you with them. But, since I have known what your early connection was with my father and mother, I have learned to think of you (and, I suppose, to write to you) as an old friend. And, besides, I have it so much at heart to change your opinion of Magdalen, that I can't help telling you the smallest things about her which may, in my judgment, end in making you think of her as I do.
"When breakfast-time came (on Thursday morning), we were surprised to find a strange letter on the table. Perhaps I ought to mention it to you, in case of any future necessity for your interference. It was addressed to Miss Garth, on paper with the deepest mourning-border round it; and the writer was the same man who followed us on our way home from a walk one day last spring—Captain Wragge. His object appears to be to assert once more his audacious claim to a family connection with my poor mother, under cover of a letter of condolence; which it is an insolence in such a person to have written at all. He expresses as much sympathy—on his discovery of our affliction in the newspaper—as if he had been really intimate with us; and he begs to know, in a postscript (being evidently in total ignorance of all that has really happened), whether it is thought desirable that he should be present, among the other relatives, at the reading of the will! The address he gives, at which letters will reach him for the next fortnight, is, 'Post-office, Birmingham.' This is all I have to tell you on the subject. Both the letter and the writer seem to me to be equally unworthy of the slightest notice, on our part or on yours.
"After breakfast Magdalen left us, and went by herself into the morning-room. The weather being still showery, we had arranged that Francis Clare should see her in that room, when he presented himself to take his leave. I was upstairs when he came; and I remained upstairs for more than half an hour afterward, sadly anxious, as you may well believe, on Magdalen's account.
"At the end of the half-hour or more, I came downstairs. As I reached the landing I suddenly heard her voice, raised entreatingly, and calling on him by his name—then loud sobs—then a frightful laughing and screaming, both together, that rang through the house. I instantly ran into the room, and found Magdalen on the sofa in violent hysterics, and Frank standing staring at her, with a lowering, angry face, biting his nails.
"I felt so indignant—without knowing plainly why, for I was ignorant, of course, of what had passed at the interview—that I took Mr. Francis Clare by the shoulders and pushed him out of the room. I am careful to tell you how I acted toward him, and what led to it; because I understand that he is excessively offended with me, and that he is likely to mention elsewhere what he calls my unladylike violence toward him. If he should mention it to you, I am anxious to acknowledge, of my own accord, that I forgot myself—not, I hope you will think, without some provocation.
"I pushed him into the hall, leaving Magdalen, for the moment, to Miss Garth's care. Instead of going away, he sat down sulkily on one of the hall chairs. 'May I ask the reason of this extraordinary violence?' he inquired, with an injured look. 'No,' I said. 'You will be good enough to imagine the reason for yourself, and to leave us immediately, if you please.' He sat doggedly in the chair, biting his nails and considering. 'What have I done to be treated in this unfeeling manner?' he asked, after a while. 'I can enter into no discussion with you,' I answered; 'I can only request you to leave us. If you persist in waiting to see my sister again, I will go to the cottage myself and appeal to your father.' He got up in a great hurry at those words. 'I have been infamously used in this business,' he said. 'All the hardships and the sacrifices have fallen to my share. I'm the only one among you who has any heart: all the rest are as hard as stones—Magdalen included. In one breath she says she loves me, and in another she tells me to go to China. What have I done to be treated with this heartless inconsistency? I am consistent myself—I only want to stop at home—and (what's the consequence?) you're all against me!' In that manner he grumbled his way down the steps, and so I saw the last of him. This was all that passed between us. If he gives you any other account of it, what he says will be false. He made no attempt to return. An hour afterward his father came alone to say good-by. He saw Miss Garth and me, but not Magdalen; and he told us he would take the necessary measures, with your assistance, for having his son properly looked after in London, and seen safely on board the vessel when the time came. It was a short visit, and a sad leave-taking. Even Mr. Clare was sorry, though he tried hard to hide it.
"We had barely two hours, after Mr. Clare had left us, before it would be time to go. I went back to Magdalen, and found her quieter and better, though terribly pale and exhausted, and oppressed, as I fancied, by thoughts which she could not prevail on herself to communicate. She would tell me nothing then—she has told me nothing since—of what passed between herself and Francis Clare. When I spoke of him angrily (feeling as I did that he had distressed and tortured her, when she ought to have had all the encouragement and comfort from him that man could give), she refused to hear me: she made the kindest allowances and the sweetest excuses for him, and laid all the blame of the dreadful state in which I had found her entirely on herself. Was I wrong in telling you that she had a noble nature? And won't you alter your opinion when you read these lines?
"We had no friends to come and bid us good-by; and our few acquaintances were too far from us—perhaps too indifferent about us—to call. We employed the little leisure left in going over the house together for the last time. We took leave of our old schoolroom, our bedrooms, the room where our mother died, the little study where our father used to settle his accounts and write his letters—feeling toward them, in our forlorn condition, as other girls might have felt at parting with old friends. From the house, in a gleam of fine weather, we went into the garden, and gathered our last nosegay; with the purpose of drying the flowers when they begin to wither, and keeping them in remembrance of the happy days that are gone. When we had said good-by to the garden, there was only half an hour left. We went together to the grave; we knelt down, side by side, in silence, and kissed the sacred ground. I thought my heart would have broken. August was the month of my mother's birthday; and, this time last year, my father and Magdalen and I were all consulting in secret what present we could make to surprise her with on the birthday morning.
"If you had seen how Magdalen suffered, you would never doubt her again. I had to take her from the last resting-place of our father and mother almost by force. Before we were out of the churchyard she broke from me and ran back. She dropped on her knees at the grave; tore up from it passionately a handful of grass; and said something to herself, at the same moment, which, though I followed her instantly, I did not get near enough to hear. She turned on me in such a frenzied manner, when I tried to raise her from the ground—she looked at me with such a fearful wildness in her eyes—that I felt absolutely terrified at the sight of her. To my relief, the paroxysm left her as suddenly as it had come. She thrust away the tuft of grass into the bosom of her dress, and took my arm and hurried with me out of the churchyard. I asked her why she had gone back—I asked what those words were which she had spoken at the grave. 'A promise to our dead father,' she answered, with a momentary return of the wild look and the frenzied manner which had startled me already. I was afraid to agitate her by saying more; I left all other questions to be asked at a fitter and a quieter time. You will understand from this how terribly she suffers, how wildly and strangely she acts under violent agitation; and you will not interpret against her what she said or did when you saw her on Wednesday last.
"We only returned to the house in time to hasten away from it to the train. Perhaps it was better for us so—better that we had only a moment left to look back before the turn in the road hid the last of Combe-Raven from our view. There was not a soul we knew at the station; nobody to stare at us, nobody to wish us good-by. The rain came on again as we took our seats in the train. What we felt at the sight of the railway—what horrible remembrances it forced on our minds of the calamity which has made us fatherless—I cannot, and dare not, tell you. I have tried anxiously not to write this letter in a gloomy tone; not to return all your kindness to us by distressing you with our grief. Perhaps I have dwelt too long already on the little story of our parting from home? I can only say, in excuse, that my heart is full of it; and what is not in my heart my pen won't write.
"We have been so short a time in our new abode that I have nothing more to tell you—except that Miss Garth's sister has received us with the heartiest kindness. She considerately leaves us to ourselves, until we are fitter than we are now to think of our future plans, and to arrange as we best can for earning our own living. The house is so large, and the position of our rooms has been so thoughtfully chosen, that I should hardly know—except when I hear the laughing of the younger girls in the garden—that we were living in a school.
"With kindest and best wishes from Miss Garth and my sister, believe me, dear Mr. Pendril, gratefully yours,
From Miss Garth to Mr. Pendril.
"Westmoreland House, Kensington,
"September 23d, 1846.
"MY DEAR SIR—I write these lines in such misery of mind as no words can describe. Magdalen has deserted us. At an early hour this morning she secretly left the house, and she has not been heard of since.
"I would come and speak to you personally; but I dare not leave Norah. I must try to control myself; I must try to write.
"Nothing happened yesterday to prepare me or to prepare Norah for this last—I had almost said, this worst—of all our afflictions. The only alteration we either of us noticed in the unhappy girl was an alteration for the better when we parted for the night. She kissed me, which she has not done latterly; and she burst out crying when she embraced her sister next. We had so little suspicion of the truth that we thought these signs of renewed tenderness and affection a promise of better things for the future.
"This morning, when her sister went into her room, it was empty, and a note in her handwriting, addressed to Norah, was lying on the dressing-table. I cannot prevail on Norah to part with the note; I can only send you the inclosed copy of it. You will see that it affords no clew to the direction she has taken.
"Knowing the value of time, in this dreadful emergency, I examined her room, and (with my sister's help) questioned the servants immediately on the news of her absence reaching me. Her wardrobe was empty; and all her boxes but one, which she has evidently taken away with her, are empty, too. We are of opinion that she has privately turned her dresses and jewelry into money; that she had the one trunk she took with her removed from the house yesterday; and that she left us this morning on foot. The answers given by one of the servants are so unsatisfactory that we believe the woman has been bribed to assist her; and has managed all those arrangements for her flight which she could not have safely undertaken by herself.
"Of the immediate object with which she has left us, I entertain no doubt.
"I have reasons (which I can tell you at a fitter time) for feeling assured that she has gone away with the intention of trying her fortune on the stage. She has in her possession the card of an actor by profession, who superintended an amateur theatrical performance at Clifton, in which she took part; and to him she has gone to help her. I saw the card at the time, and I know the actor's name to be Huxtable. The address I cannot call to mind quite so correctly; but I am almost sure it was at some theatrical place in Bow Street, Covent Garden. Let me entreat you not to lose a moment in sending to make the necessary inquiries; the first trace of her will, I firmly believe, be found at that address.
"If we had nothing worse to dread than her attempting to go on the stage, I should not feel the distress and dismay which now overpower me. Hundreds of other girls have acted as recklessly as she has acted, and have not ended ill after all. But my fears for Magdalen do not begin and end with the risk she is running at present.
"There has been something weighing on her mind ever since we left Combe-Raven—weighing far more heavily for the last six weeks than at first. Until the period when Francis Clare left England, I am persuaded she was secretly sustained by the hope that he would contrive to see her again. From the day when she knew that the measures you had taken for preventing this had succeeded; from the day when she was assured that the ship had really taken him away, nothing has roused, nothing has interested her. She has given herself up, more and more hopelessly, to her own brooding thoughts; thoughts which I believe first entered her mind on the day when the utter ruin of the prospects on which her marriage depended was made known to her. She has formed some desperate project of contesting the possession of her father's fortune with Michael Vanstone; and the stage career which she has gone away to try is nothing more than a means of freeing herself from all home dependence, and of enabling her to run what mad risks she pleases, in perfect security from all home control. What it costs me to write of her in these terms, I must leave you to imagine. The time has gone by when any consideration of distress to my own feelings can weigh with me. Whatever I can say which will open your eyes to the real danger, and strengthen your conviction of the instant necessity of averting it, I say in despite of myself, without hesitation and without reserve.
"One word more, and I have done.
"The last time you were so good as to come to this house, do you remember how Magdalen embarrassed and distressed us by questioning you about her right to bear her father's name? Do you remember her persisting in her inquiries, until she had forced you to acknowledge that, legally speaking, she and her sister had No Name? I venture to remind you of this, because you have the affairs of hundreds of clients to think of, and you might well have forgotten the circumstance. Whatever natural reluctance she might otherwise have had to deceiving us, and degrading herself, by the use of an assumed name, that conversation with you is certain to have removed. We must discover her by personal description—we can trace her in no other way.
"I can think of nothing more to guide your decision in our deplorable emergency. For God's sake, let no expense and no efforts be spared. My letter ought to reach you by ten o'clock this morning, at the latest. Let me have one line in answer, to say you will act instantly for the best. My only hope of quieting Norah is to show her a word of encouragement from your pen. Believe me, dear sir, yours sincerely and obliged,
From Magdalen to Norah (inclosed in the preceding Letter).
"MY DARLING—Try to forgive me. I have struggled against myself till I am worn out in the effort. I am the wretchedest of living creatures. Our quiet life here maddens me; I can bear it no longer; I must go. If you knew what my thoughts are; if you knew how hard I have fought against them, and how horribly they have gone on haunting me in the lonely quiet of this house, you would pity and forgive me. Oh, my love, don't feel hurt at my not opening my heart to you as I ought! I dare not open it. I dare not show myself to you as I really am.
"Pray don't send and seek after me; I will write and relieve all your anxieties. You know, Norah, we must get our living for ourselves; I have only gone to get mine in the manner which is fittest for me. Whether I succeed, or whether I fail, I can do myself no harm either way. I have no position to lose, and no name to degrade. Don't doubt I love you—don't let Miss Garth doubt my gratitude. I go away miserable at leaving you; but I must go. If I had loved you less dearly, I might have had the courage to say this in your presence—but how could I trust myself to resist your persuasions, and to bear the sight of your distress? Farewell, my darling! Take a thousand kisses from me, my own best, dearest love, till we meet again.
From Sergeant Bulmer (of the Detective Police) to Mr. Pendril.
"Scotland Yard, September 29th, 1846.
"SIR—Your clerk informs me that the parties interested in our inquiry after the missing young lady are anxious for news of the same. I went to your office to speak to you about the matter to-day. Not having found you, and not being able to return and try again to-morrow, I write these lines to save delay, and to tell you how we stand thus far.
"I am sorry to say, no advance has been made since my former report. The trace of the young lady which we found nearly a week since, still remains the last trace discovered of her. This case seems a mighty simple one looked at from a distance. Looked at close, it alters very considerably for the worse, and becomes, to speak the plain truth—a Poser.
"This is how we now stand:
"We have traced the young lady to the theatrical agent's in Bow Street. We know that at an early hour on the morning of the twenty-third the agent was called downstairs, while he was dressing, to speak to a young lady in a cab at the door. We know that, on her production of Mr. Huxtable's card, he wrote on it Mr. Huxtable's address in the country, and heard her order the cabman to drive to the Great Northern terminus. We believe she left by the nine o'clock train. We followed her by the twelve o'clock train. We have ascertained that she called at half-past two at Mr. Huxtable's lodgings; that she found he was away, and not expected back till eight in the evening; that she left word she would call again at eight; and that she never returned. Mr. Huxtable's statement is—he and the young lady have never set eyes on each other. The first consideration which follows, is this: Are we to believe Mr. Huxtable? I have carefully inquired into his character; I know as much, or more, about him than he knows about himself; and my opinion is, that we are to believe him. To the best of my knowledge, he is a perfectly honest man.
"Here, then, is the hitch in the case. The young lady sets out with a certain object before her. Instead of going on to the accomplishment of that object, she stops short of it. Why has she stopped? and where? Those are, unfortunately, just the questions which we can't answer yet.
"My own opinion of the matter is, briefly, as follows: I don't think she has met with any serious accident. Serious accidents, in nine cases out of ten, discover themselves. My own notion is, that she has fallen into the hands of some person or persons interested in hiding her away, and sharp enough to know how to set about it. Whether she is in their charge, with or without her own consent, is more than I can undertake to say at present. I don't wish to raise false hopes or false fears; I wish to stop short at the opinion I have given already.
"In regard to the future, I may tell you that I have left one of my men in daily communication with the authorities. I have also taken care to have the handbills offering a reward for the discovery of her widely circulated. Lastly, I have completed the necessary arrangements for seeing the play-bills of all country theaters, and for having the dramatic companies well looked after. Some years since, this would have cost a serious expenditure of time and money. Luckily for our purpose, the country theaters are in a bad way. Excepting the large cities, hardly one of them is open, and we can keep our eye on them, with little expense and less difficulty.
"These are the steps which I think it needful to take at present. If you are of another opinion, you have only to give me your directions, and I will carefully attend to the same. I don't by any means despair of our finding the young lady and bringing her back to her friends safe and well. Please to tell them so; and allow me to subscribe myself, yours respectfully,
Anonymous Letter addressed to Mr. Pendril.
"SIR—A word to the wise. The friends of a certain young lady are wasting time and money to no purpose. Your confidential clerk and your detective policeman are looking for a needle in a bottle of hay. This is the ninth of October, and they have not found her yet: they will as soon find the Northwest Passage. Call your dogs off; and you may hear of the young lady's safety under her own hand. The longer you look for her, the longer she will remain, what she is now—lost."
[The preceding letter is thus indorsed, in Mr. Pendril's handwriting: "No apparent means of tracing the inclosed to its source. Post-mark, 'Charing Cross.' Stationer's stamp cut off the inside of the envelope. Handwriting, probably a man's, in disguise. Writer, whoever he is, correctly informed. No further trace of the younger Miss Vanstone discovered yet."]
THE SECOND SCENE.
IN that part of the city of York which is situated on the western bank of the Ouse there is a narrow street, called Skeldergate, running nearly north and south, parallel with the course of the river. The postern by which Skeldergate was formerly approached no longer exists; and the few old houses left in the street are disguised in melancholy modern costume of whitewash and cement. Shops of the smaller and poorer order, intermixed here and there with dingy warehouses and joyless private residences of red brick, compose the present a spect of Skeldergate. On the river-side the houses are separated at intervals by lanes running down to the water, and disclosing lonely little plots of open ground, with the masts of sailing-barges rising beyond. At its southward extremity the street ceases on a sudden, and the broad flow of the Ouse, the trees, the meadows, the public-walk on one bank and the towing-path on the other, open to view.
Here, where the street ends, and on the side of it furthest from the river, a narrow little lane leads up to the paved footway surmounting the ancient Walls of York. The one small row of buildings, which is all that the lane possesses, is composed of cheap lodging-houses, with an opposite view, at the distance of a few feet, of a portion of the massive city wall. This place is called Rosemary Lane. Very little light enters it; very few people live in it; the floating population of Skeldergate passes it by; and visitors to the Walk on the Walls, who use it as the way up or the way down, get out of the dreary little passage as fast as they can.
The door of one of the houses in this lost corner of York opened softly on the evening of the twenty-third of September, eighteen hundred and forty-six; and a solitary individual of the male sex sauntered into Skeldergate from the seclusion of Rosemary Lane.
Turning northward, this person directed his steps toward the bridge over the Ouse and the busy center of the city. He bore the external appearance of respectable poverty; he carried a gingham umbrella, preserved in an oilskin case; he picked his steps, with the neatest avoidance of all dirty places on the pavement; and he surveyed the scene around him with eyes of two different colors—a bilious brown eye on the lookout for employment, and a bilious green eye in a similar predicament. In plainer terms, the stranger from Rosemary Lane was no other than—Captain Wragge.
Outwardly speaking, the captain had not altered for the better since the memorable spring day when he had presented himself to Miss Garth at the lodge-gate at Combe-Raven. The railway mania of that famous year had attacked even the wary Wragge; had withdrawn him from his customary pursuits; and had left him prostrate in the end, like many a better man. He had lost his clerical appearance—he had faded with the autumn leaves. His crape hat-band had put itself in brown mourning for its own bereavement of black. His dingy white collar and cravat had died the death of old linen, and had gone to their long home at the paper-maker's, to live again one day in quires at a stationer's shop. A gray shooting-jacket in the last stage of woolen atrophy replaced the black frockcoat of former times, and, like a faithful servant, kept the dark secret of its master's linen from the eyes of a prying world. From top to toe every square inch of the captain's clothing was altered for the worse; but the man himself remained unchanged—superior to all forms of moral mildew, impervious to the action of social rust. He was as courteous, as persuasive, as blandly dignified as ever. He carried his head as high without a shirt-collar as ever he had carried it with one. The threadbare black handkerchief round his neck was perfectly tied; his rotten old shoes were neatly blacked; he might have compared chins, in the matter of smooth shaving, with the highest church dignitary in York. Time, change, and poverty had all attacked the captain together, and had all failed alike to get him down on the ground. He paced the streets of York, a man superior to clothes and circumstances—his vagabond varnish as bright on him as ever.