"It's only one thing," Regina acknowledged, with her eyes on the ground again. "Perhaps, when you go to London, you may see the—"
"It's not likely. Say I do see her—what then?"
Regina's colour began to show itself again. "If you do see her," she said, "I beg and entreat you won't speak of me in her hearing. I should die of the shame of it, if she thought herself asked to give him up out of pity for me. Promise I am not to be brought forward; promise you won't even mention my having spoken to you about it. On your word of honour!"
Rufus gave her his promise, without showing any hesitation, or making any remark. But when she shook hands with him, on returning to the carriage, he held her hand for a moment. "Please to excuse me, Miss, if I ask one question," he said, in tones too low to be heard by any other person. "Are you really fond of Amelius?"
"I am surprised you should doubt it," she answered; "I am more—much more than fond of him!"
Rufus handed her silently into the carriage, "Fond of him, are you?" he thought, as he walked away by himself. "I reckon it's a sort of fondness that don't wear well, and won't stand washing."
Early the next morning, Rufus rang at the cottage gate.
"Well, Mr. Frenchman, and how do you git along? And how's Amelius?"
Toff, standing before the gate, answered with the utmost respect, but showed no inclination to let the visitor in.
"Amelius has his intervals of laziness," Rufus proceeded; "I bet he's in bed!"
"My young master was up and dressed an hour ago, sir—he has just gone out."
"That is so, is it? Well, I'll wait till he comes back." He pushed by Toff, and walked into the cottage. "Your foreign ceremonies are clean thrown away on me," he said, as Toff tried to stop him in the hall. "I'm the American savage; and I'm used up with travelling all night. Here's a little order for you: whisky, bitters, lemon, and ice—I'll take a cocktail in the library."
Toff made a last desperate effort to get between the visitor and the door. "I beg your pardon, sir, a thousand times; I must most respectfully entreat you to wait—"
Before he could explain himself, Rufus, with the most perfect good humour, pulled the old man out of his way. "What's troubling this venerable creature's mind—" he inquired of himself, "does he think I don't know my way in?"
He opened the library door—and found himself face to face with Sally. She had risen from her chair, hearing voices outside, and hesitating whether to leave the room or not. They confronted each other, on either side of the table, in silent dismay. For once Rufus was so completely bewildered, that he took refuge in his customary form of greeting before he was aware of it himself.
"How do you find yourself, Miss? I take pleasure in renewing our acquaintance,—Thunder! that's not it; I reckon I'm off my head. Do me the favour, young woman, to forget every word I've said to you. If any mortal creature had told me I should find you here, I should have said 'twas a lie—and I should have been the liar. That makes a man feel bad, I can tell you. No! don't slide off, if you please, into the next room—that won't set things right, nohow. Sit you down again. Now I'm here, I have something to say. I'll speak first to Mr. Frenchman. Listen to this, old sir. If I happen to want a witness standing in the doorway, I'll ring the bell; for the present I can do without you. Bong Shewer, as we say in your country." He proceeded to shut the door on Toff and his remonstrances.
"I protest, sir, against acts of violence, unworthy of a gentleman!" cried Toff, struggling to get back again.
"Be as angry as you please in the kitchen," Rufus answered, persisting in closing the door; "I won't have a noise up here. If you know where your master is, go and fetch him—and the sooner the better." He turned back to Sally, and surveyed her for a while in terrible silence. She was afraid to look at him; her eyes were on the book which she had been reading when he came in. "You look to me," Rufus remarked, "as if you had been settled here for a time. Never mind your book now; you can go back to your reading after we've had a word or two together first." He reached out his long arm, and pulled the book to his own side of the table. Sally innocently silenced him for the second time. He opened the book, and discovered—the New Testament.
"It's my lesson, if you please, sir. I'm to learn it where the pencil mark is, before Amelius comes back." She offered her poor little explanation, trembling with terror. In spite of himself, Rufus began to look at her less sternly.
"So you call him 'Amelius', do you?" he said. "I note that, Miss, as an unfavourable sign to begin with. How long, if you please, has Amelius turned schoolmarm, for your young ladyship's benefit? Don't you understand? Well, you're not the only inhabitant of Great Britain who don't understand the English language. I'll put it plainer. When I last saw Amelius, you were learning your lessons at the Home. What ill wind, Miss, blew you in here? Did Amelius fetch you, or did you come of your own accord, without waiting to be whistled for?" He spoke coarsely but not ill-humouredly. Sally's pretty downcast face was pleading with him for mercy, and (as he felt, with supreme contempt for himself) was not altogether pleading in vain. "If I guessed that you ran away from the home," he resumed, "should I guess right?"
She answered with a sudden accession of confidence. "Don't blame Amelius," she said; "I did run away. I couldn't live without him."
"You don't know how you can live, young one, till you've tried the experiment. Well, and what did they do at the Home? Did they send after you, to fetch you back?"
"They wouldn't take me back—they sent my clothes here after me."
"Ah, those were the rules, I reckon. I begin to see my way to the end of it now. Amelius gave you house-room?"
She looked at him proudly. "He gave me a room of my own," she said.
His next question was the exact repetition of the question which he had put to Regina in Paris. The only variety was in the answer that he received.
"Are you fond of Amelius?"
"I would die for him!"
Rufus had hitherto spoken, standing. He now took a chair.
"If Amelius had not been brought up at Tadmor," he said, "I should take my hat, and wish you good morning. As things are, a word more may be a word in season. Your lessons here seem to have agreed with you, Miss. You're a different sort of girl to what you were when I last saw you."
She surprised him by receiving that remark in silence. The colour left her face. She sighed bitterly. The sigh puzzled Rufus: he held his opinion of her in suspense, until he had heard more.
"You said just now you would die for Amelius," he went on, eyeing her attentively. "I take that to be a woman's hysterical way of mentioning that she feels interest in Amelius. Are you fond enough of him to leave him, if you could only be persuaded that leaving him was for his good?"
She abruptly left the table, and went to the window. When her back was turned to Rufus, she spoke. "Am I a disgrace to him?" she asked, in tones so faint that he could barely hear them. "I have had my fears of it, before now."
If he had been less fond of Amelius, his natural kindness of heart might have kept him silent. Even as it was, he made no direct reply. "You remember how you were living when Amelius first met with you?" was all he said.
The sad blue eyes looked at him in patient sorrow; the low sweet voice answered—"Yes." Only a look and a word—only the influence of an instant—and, in that instant, Rufus's last doubts of her vanished!
"Don't think I say it reproachfully, my child! I know it was not your fault; I know you are to be pitied, and not blamed."
She turned her face towards him—pale, quiet, and resigned. "Pitied, and not blamed," she repeated. "Am I to be forgiven?"
He shrank from answering her. There was silence.
"You said just now," she went on, "that I looked like a different girl, since you last saw me. I am a different girl. I think of things that I never thought of before—some change, I don't know what, has come over me. Oh, my heart does hunger so to be good! I do so long to deserve what Amelius has done for me! You have got my book there—Amelius gave it to me; we read in it every day. If Christ had been on earth now, is it wrong to think that Christ would have forgiven me?"
"No, my dear; it's right to think so."
"And, while I live, if I do my best to lead a good life, and if my last prayer to God is to take me to heaven, shall I be heard?"
"You will be heard, my child, I don't doubt it. But, you see, you have got the world about you to reckon with—and the world has invented a religion of its own. There's no use looking for it in this book of yours. It's a religion with the pride of property at the bottom of it, and a veneer of benevolent sentiment at the top. It will be very sorry for you, and very charitable towards you: in short, it will do everything for you except taking you back again."
She had her answer to that. "Amelius has taken me back again," she said.
"Amelius has taken you back again," Rufus agreed. "But there's one thing he's forgotten to do; he has forgotten to count the cost. It seems to be left to me to do that. Look here, my girl! I own I doubted you when I first came into this room; and I'm sorry for it, and I beg your pardon. I do believe you're a good girl—I couldn't say why if I was asked, but I do believe it for all that. I wish there was no more to be said—but there is more; and neither you nor I must shirk it. Public opinion won't deal as tenderly with you as I do; public opinion will make the worst of you, and the worst of Amelius. While you're living here with him—there's no disguising it—you're innocently in the way of the boy's prospects in life. I don't know whether you understand me?"
She had turned away from him; she was looking out of the window once more.
"I understand you," she answered. "On the night when Amelius met with me, he did wrong to take me away with him. He ought to have left me where I was."
"Wait a bit! that's as far from my meaning as far can be. There's a look-out for everybody; and, if you'll trust me, I'll find a look-out for you."
She paid no heed to what he said: her next words showed that she was pursuing her own train of thought.
"I am in the way of his prospects in life," she resumed. "You mean that he might be married some day, but for me?"
Rufus admitted it cautiously. "The thing might happen," was all he said.
"And his friends might come and see him," she went on; her face still turned away, and her voice sinking into dull subdued tones. "Nobody comes here now. You see I understand you. When shall I go away? I had better not say good-bye, I suppose?—it would only distress him. I could slip out of the house, couldn't I?"
Rufus began to feel uneasy. He was prepared for tears—but not for such resignation as this. After a little hesitation, he joined her at the window. She never turned towards him; she still looked out straight before her; her bright young face had turned pitiably rigid and pale. He spoke to her very gently; advising her to think of what he had said, and to do nothing in a hurry. She knew the hotel at which he stayed when he was in London; and she could write to him there. If she decided to begin a new life in another country, he was wholly and truly at her service. He would provide a passage for her in the same ship that took him back to America. At his age, and known as he was in his own neighbourhood, there would be no scandal to fear. He could get her reputably and profitably employed, in work which a young girl might undertake. "I'll be as good as a father to you, my poor child," he said, "don't think you're going to be friendless, if you leave Amelius. I'll see to that! You shall have honest people about you—and innocent pleasure in your new life."
She thanked him, still with the same dull tearless resignation. "What will the honest people say," she asked, "when they know who I am?"
"They have no business to know who you are—and they shan't know it."
"Ah! it comes back to the same thing," she said. "You must deceive the honest people, or you can do nothing for me. Amelius had better have left me where I was! I disgraced nobody, I was a burden to nobody, there. Cold and hunger and ill-treatment can sometimes be merciful friends, in their way. If I had been left to them, they would have laid me at rest by this time." She turned to Rufus, before he could speak to her. "I'm not ungrateful, sir; I'll think of it, as you say; and I'll do all that a poor foolish creature can do, to be worthy of the interest you take in me." She lifted her hand to her head, with a momentary expression of pain. "I've got a dull kind of aching here," she said; "it reminds me of my old life, when I was sometimes beaten on the head. May I go and lie down a little, by myself?"
Rufus took her hand, and pressed it in silence. She looked back at him as she opened the door of her room. "Don't distress Amelius," she said; "I can bear anything but that."
Left alone in the library, Rufus walked restlessly to and fro, driven by a troubled mind. "I was bound to do it," he thought; "and I ought to be satisfied with myself. I'm not satisfied. The world is hard on women—and the rights of property is a darned bad reason for it!"
The door from the hall was suddenly thrown open. Amelius entered the room. He looked flushed and angry—he refused to take the hand that Rufus offered to him.
"What's this I hear from Toff? It seems that you forced your way in when Sally was here. There are limits to the liberties that a man may take in his friend's house."
"That's true," said Rufus quietly. "But when a man hasn't taken liberties, there don't seem much to be said. Sally was at the Home, when I last saw you—and nobody told me I should find her in this room."
"You might have left the room, when you found her here. You have been talking to her. If you have said anything about Regina—"
"I have said nothing about Miss Regina. You have a hot temper of your own, Amelius. Wait a bit, and let it cool."
"Never mind my temper. I want to know what you have been saying to Sally. Stop! I'll ask Sally herself." He crossed the room to the inner door, and knocked. "Come in here, my dear; I want to speak to you."
The answer reached him faintly through the door. "I have got a bad headache, Amelius. Please let me rest a little." He turned back to Rufus, and lowered his voice. But his eyes flashed; he was more angry than ever.
"You had better go," he said. "I can guess how you have been talking to her—I know what her headache means. Any man who distresses that dear little affectionate creature is a man whom I hold as my enemy. I spit upon all the worldly considerations which pass muster with people like you! No sweeter girl than poor Sally ever breathed the breath of life. Her happiness is more precious to me than words can say. She is sacred to me! And I have just proved it—I have just come from a good woman, who will teach her an honest way of earning her bread. Not a breath of scandal shall blow on her. If you, or any people like you, think I will consent to cast her adrift on the world, or consign her to a prison under the name of a Home, you little know my nature and my principles. Here"—he snatched up the New Testament from the table, and shook it at Rufus—"here are my principles, and I'm not ashamed of them!"
Rufus took up his hat.
"There's one thing you'll be ashamed of, my son, when you're cool enough to think about it," he said; "you'll be ashamed of the words you have spoken to a friend who loves you. I'm not a bit angry myself. You remind me of that time on board the steamer, when the quarter-master was going to shoot the bird. You made it up with him—and you'll come to my hotel and make it up with me. And then we'll shake hands, and talk about Sally. If it's not taking another liberty, I'll trouble you for a light." He helped himself to a match from the box on the chimney-piece, lit his cigar, and left the room.
He had not been gone half an hour, before the better nature of Amelius urged him to follow Rufus and make his apologies. But he was too anxious about Sally to leave the cottage, until he had seen her first. The tone in which she had answered him, when he knocked at her door, suggested, to his sensitive apprehension, that there was something more serious the matter with her than a mere headache. For another hour, he waited patiently, on the chance that he might hear her moving in her room. Nothing happened. No sound reached his ears, except the occasional rolling of carriage-wheels on the road outside.
His patience began to fail him, as the second hour moved on. He went to the door, and listened, and still heard nothing. A sudden dread struck him that she might have fainted. He opened the door a few inches, and spoke to her. There was no answer. He looked in. The room was empty.
He ran into the hall, and called to Toff. Was she, by any chance, downstairs? No. Or out in the garden? No. Master and man looked at each other in silence. Sally was gone.
Toff was the first who recovered himself.
"Courage, sir!" he said. "With a little thinking, we shall see the way to find her. That rude American man, who talked with her this morning, may be the person who has brought this misfortune on us."
Amelius waited to hear no more. There was the chance, at least, that something might have been said which had induced her to take refuge with Rufus. He ran back to the library to get his hat.
Toff followed his master, with another suggestion. "One word more, sir, before you go. If the American man cannot help us, we must be ready to try another way. Permit me to accompany you as far as my wife's shop. I propose that she shall come back here with me, and examine poor little Miss's bedroom. We will wait, of course, for your return, before anything is done. In the mean time, I entreat you not to despair. It is at least possible that the means of discovery may be found in the bedroom."
They went out together, taking the first cab that passed them. Amelius proceeded alone to the hotel.
Rufus was in his room. "What's gone wrong?" he asked, the moment Amelius opened the door. "Shake hands, my son, and smother up that little trouble between us in silence. Your face alarms me—it does! What of Sally?"
Amelius started at the question. "Isn't she here?" he asked.
Rufus drew back. The mere action said, No, before he answered in words.
"Have you seen nothing of her? heard nothing of her?"
"Nothing. Steady, now! Meet it like a man; and tell me what has happened."
Amelius told him in two words. "Don't suppose I'm going to break out again as I did this morning," he went on; "I'm too wretched and too anxious to be angry. Only tell me, Rufus, have you said anything to her—?"
Rufus held up his hand. "I see what you're driving at. It will be more to the purpose to tell you what she said to me. From first to last, Amelius, I spoke kindly to her, and I did her justice. Give me a minute to rummage my memory." After brief consideration, he carefully repeated the substance of what had passed between Sally and himself, during the latter part of the interview between them. "Have you looked about in her room?" he inquired, when he had done. "There might be a trifling something to help you, left behind her there."
Amelius told him of Toff's suggestion. They returned together at once to the cottage. Madame Toff was waiting to begin the search.
The first discovery was easily made. Sally had taken off one or two little trinkets—presents from Amelius, which she was in the habit of wearing—and had left them, wrapped up in paper, on the dressing-table. No such thing as a farewell letter was found near them. The examination of the wardrobe came next—and here a startling circumstance revealed itself. Every one of the dresses which Amelius had presented to her was hanging in its place. They were not many; and they had all, on previous occasions, been passed in review by Toff's wife. She was absolutely certain that the complete number of the dresses was there in the bedroom. Sally must have worn something, in place of her new clothes. What had she put on?
Looking round the room, Amelius noticed in a corner the box in which he had placed the first new dress that he had purchased for Sally, on the morning after they had met. He tried to open the box: it was locked—and the key was not to be found. The ever-ready Toff fetched a skewer from the kitchen, and picked the lock in two minutes. On lifting the cover, the box proved to be empty.
The one person present who understood what this meant was Amelius.
He remembered that Sally had taken her old threadbare clothes away with her in the box, when the angry landlady had insisted on his leaving the house. "I want to look at them sometimes," the poor girl had said, "and think how much better off I am now." In those miserable rags she had fled from the cottage, after hearing the cruel truth. "He had better have left me where I was," she had said. "Cold and hunger and ill-treatment would have laid me at rest by this time." Amelius fell on his knees before the empty box, in helpless despair. The conclusion that now forced itself on his mind completely unmanned him. She had gone back, in the old dress, to die under the cold, the hunger, and the horror of the old life.
Rufus took his hand, and spoke to him kindly. He rallied, and dashed the tears from his eyes, and rose to his feet. "I know where to look for her," was all he said; "and I must do it alone." He refused to enter into any explanation, or to be assisted by any companion. "This is my secret and hers," he answered, "Go back to your hotel, Rufus—and pray that I may not bring news which will make a wretched man of you for the rest of your life." With that he left them.
In another hour he stood once more on the spot at which he and Sally had met.
The wild bustle and uproar of the costermongers' night market no longer rioted round him: the street by daylight was in a state of dreary repose. Slowly pacing up and down, from one end to another, he waited with but one hope to sustain him—the hope that she might have taken refuge with the two women who had been her only friends in the dark days of her life. Ignorant of the place in which they lived, he had no choice but to wait for the appearance of one or other of them in the street. He was quiet and resolved. For the rest of the day, and for the whole of the night if need be, his mind was made up to keep steadfastly on the watch.
When he could walk no longer, he obtained rest and refreshment in the cookshop which he remembered so well; sitting on a stool near the window, from which he could still command a view of the street. The gas-lamps were alight, and the long winter's night was beginning to set in, when he resumed his weary march from end to end of the pavement. As the darkness became complete, his patience was rewarded at last. Passing the door of a pawnbroker's shop, he met one of the women face to face, walking rapidly, with a little parcel under her arm.
She recognized him with a cry of joyful surprise.
"Oh, sir, how glad I am to see you, to be sure! You've come to look after Sally, haven't you? Yes, yes; she's safe in our poor place—but in such a dreadful state. Off her head! clean off her head! Talks of nothing but you. 'I'm in the way of his prospects in life.' Over and over and over again, she keeps on saying that. Don't be afraid; Jenny's at home, taking care of her. She wants to go out. Hot and wild, with a kind of fever on her, she wants to go out. She asked if it rained. 'The rain may kill me in these ragged clothes,' she says; 'and then I shan't be in the way of his prospects in life.' We tried to quiet her by telling her it didn't rain—but it was no use; she was as eager as ever to go out. 'I may get another blow on the bosom,' she says; 'and, maybe, it will fall on the right place this time.' No! there's no fear of the brute who used to beat her—he's in prison. Don't ask to see her just yet, sir; please don't! I'm afraid you would only make her worse, if I took you to her now; I wouldn't dare to risk it. You see, we can't get her to sleep; and we thought of buying something to quiet her at the chemist's. Yes, sir, it would be better to get a doctor to her. But I wasn't going to the doctor. If I must tell you, I was obliged to take the sheets off the bed, to raise a little money—I was going to the pawnbroker's." She looked at the parcel under her arm, and smiled. "I may take the sheets back again, now I've met with you; and there's a good doctor lives close by—I can show you the way to him. Oh how pale you do look! Are you very much tired? It's only a little way to the doctor. I've got an arm at your service—but you mightn't like to be seen waiting with such a person as me."
Mentally and physically, Amelius was completely prostrated. The woman's melancholy narrative had overwhelmed him: he could neither speak nor act. He mechanically put his purse in her hand, and went with her to the house of the nearest medical man.
The doctor was at home, mixing drugs in his little surgery. After one sharp look at Amelius, he ran into a back parlour, and returned with a glass of spirits. "Drink this, sir," he said—"unless you want to find yourself on the floor in a fainting fit. And don't presume again on your youth and strength to treat your heart as if it was made of cast-iron." He signed to Amelius to sit down and rest himself, and turned to the woman to hear what was wanted of him. After a few questions, he said she might go; promising to follow her in a few minutes, when the gentleman would be sufficiently recovered to accompany him.
"Well, sir, are you beginning to feel like yourself again?" He was mixing a composing draught, while he addressed Amelius in those terms. "You may trust that poor wretch, who has just left us, to take care of the sick girl," he went on, in the quaintly familiar manner which seemed to be habitual with him. "I don't ask how you got into her company—it's no business of mine. But I am pretty well acquainted with the people in my neighbourhood; and I can tell you one thing, in case you're anxious. The woman who brought you here, barring the one misfortune of her life, is as good a creature as ever breathed; and the other one who lives with her is the same. When I think of what they're exposed to—well! I take to my pipe, and compose my mind in that way. My early days were all passed as a ship's surgeon. I could get them both respectable employment in Australia, if I only had the money to fit them out. They'll die in the hospital, like the rest, if something isn't done for them. In my hopeful moments, I sometimes think of a subscription. What do you say? Will you put down a few shillings to set the example?"
"I will do more than that," Amelius answered. "I have reasons for wishing to befriend both those two poor women; and I will gladly engage to find the outfit."
The familiar old doctor held out his hand over the counter. "You're a good fellow, if ever there was one yet!" he burst out. "I can show references which will satisfy you that I am not a rogue. In the mean time, let's see what is the matter with this little girl; you can tell me about her as we go along." He put his bottle of medicine in his pocket, and his arm in the arm of Amelius—and so led the way out.
When they reached the wretched lodging-house in which the women lived, he suggested that his companion would do well to wait at the door. "I'm used to sad sights: it would only distress you to see the place. I won't keep you long waiting."
He was as good as his word. In little more than ten minutes, he joined Amelius again in the street.
"Don't alarm yourself," he said. "The case is not so serious as it looks. The poor child is suffering under a severe shock to the brain and nervous system, caused by that sudden and violent distress you hinted at. My medicine will give her the one thing she wants to begin with—a good night's sleep."
Amelius asked when she would be well enough to see him.
"Ah, my young friend, it's not so easy to say, just yet! I could answer you to better purpose tomorrow. Won't that do? Must I venture on a rash opinion? She ought to be composed enough to see you in three or four days. And, when that time comes, it's my belief you will do more than I can do to set her right again."
Amelius was relieved, but not quite satisfied yet. He inquired if it was not possible to remove her from that miserable place.
"Quite impossible—without doing her serious injury. They have got money to go on with; and I have told you already, she will be well taken care of. I will look after her myself tomorrow morning. Go home, and get to bed, and eat a bit of supper first, and make your mind easy. Come to my house at twelve o'clock, noon, and you will find me ready with my references, and my report of the patient. Surgeon Pinfold, Blackacre Buildings; there's the address. Good night."
After Amelius had left him, Rufus remembered his promise to communicate with Regina by telegraph.
With his strict regard for truth, it was no easy matter to decide on what message he should send. To inspire Regina, if possible, with his own unshaken belief in the good faith of Amelius, appeared, on reflection, to be all that he could honestly do, under present circumstances. With an anxious and foreboding mind, he despatched his telegram to Paris in these terms:—"Be patient for a while, and do justice to A. He deserves it."
Having completed his business at the telegraph-office, Rufus went next to pay his visit to Mrs. Payson.
The good lady received him with a grave face and a distant manner, in startling contrast to the customary warmth of her welcome. "I used to think you were a man in a thousand," she began abruptly; "and I find you are no better than the rest of them. If you have come to speak to me about that blackguard young Socialist, understand, if you please, that I am not so easily imposed upon as Miss Regina. I have done my duty; I have opened her eyes to the truth, poor thing. Ah, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
Rufus kept his temper, with his habitual self-command. "It's possible you may be right," he said quietly; "but the biggest rascal living has a claim to an explanation, when a lady puzzles him. Have you any particular objection, old friend, to tell me what you mean?"
The explanation was not of a nature to set his mind at ease.
Regina had written, by the mail which took Rufus to England, repeating to Mrs. Payson what had passed at the interview in the Champs Elysees, and appealing to her sympathy for information and advice. Receiving the letter that morning, Mrs. Payson, acting on her own generous and compassionate impulses, had already answered it, and sent it to the post. Her experience of the unfortunate persons received at the Home was far from inclining her to believe in the innocence of a runaway girl, placed under circumstances of temptation. As an act of justice towards Regina, she enclosed to her the letter in which Amelius had acknowledged that Sally had passed the night under his roof.
"I believe I am only telling you the shameful truth," Mrs. Payson had written, "when I add that the girl has been an inmate of Mr. Goldenheart's cottage ever since. If you can reconcile this disgraceful state of things, with Mr. Rufus Dingwell's assertion of his friend's fidelity to his marriage-engagement, I have no right, and no wish, to make any attempt to alter your opinion. But you have asked for my advice, and I must not shrink from giving it. I am bound as an honest woman, to tell you that your uncle's resolution to break off the engagement represents the course that I should have taken myself, if a daughter of my own had been placed in your painful and humiliating position."
There was still ample time to modify this strong expression of opinion by the day's post. Rufus appealed vainly to Mrs. Payson to reconsider the conclusion at which she had arrived. A more charitable and considerate woman, within the limits of her own daily routine, it would not be possible to find. But the largeness of mind which, having long and trustworthy experience of a rule, can nevertheless understand that other minds may have equal experience of the exception to the rule, was one of the qualities which had not been included in the moral composition of Mrs. Payson. She held firmly to her own narrowly conscientious sense of her duty; stimulated by a natural indignation against Amelius, who had bitterly disappointed her—against Rufus, who had not scrupled to take up his defence. The two old friends parted in coldness, for the first time in their lives.
Rufus returned to his hotel, to wait there for news from Amelius.
The day passed—and the one visitor who enlivened his solitude was an American friend and correspondent, connected with the agency which managed his affairs in England. The errand of this gentleman was to give his client the soundest and speediest advice, relating to the investment of money. Having indicated the safe and solid speculation, the visitor added a warning word, relating to the plausible and dangerous investments of the day. "For instance," he said, "there's that bank started by Farnaby—"
"No need to warn me against Farnaby," Rufus interposed; "I wouldn't take shares in his bank if he made me a present of them."
The American friend looked surprised. "Surely," he exclaimed, "you can't have heard the news already! They don't even know it yet on the Stock Exchange."
Rufus explained that he had only spoken under the influence of personal prejudice against Mr. Farnaby.
"What's in the wind now?" he asked.
He was confidentially informed that a coming storm was in the wind: in other words, that a serious discovery had been made at the bank. Some time since, the directors had advanced a large sum of money to a man in trade, under Mr. Farnaby's own guarantee. The man had just died; and examination of his affairs showed that he had only received a few hundred pounds, on condition of holding his tongue. The bulk of the money had been traced to Mr. Farnaby himself, and had all been swallowed up by his newspaper, his patent medicine, and his other rotten speculations, apart from his own proper business. "You may not know it," the American friend concluded, "but the fact is, Farnaby rose from the dregs. His bankruptcy is only a question of time—he will drop back to the dregs; and, quite possibly, make his appearance to answer a criminal charge in a court of law. I hear that Melton, whose credit has held up the bank lately, is off to see his friend in Paris. They say Farnaby's niece is a handsome girl, and Melton is sweet on her. Awkward for Melton."
Rufus listened attentively. In signing the order for his investments, he privately decided to stir no further, for the present, in the matter of his young friend's marriage-engagement.
For the rest of the day and evening, he still waited for Amelius, and waited in vain. It was drawing near to midnight, when Toff made his appearance with a message from his master. Amelius had discovered Sally, and had returned in such a state of fatigue that he was only fit to take some refreshment, and to go to his bed. He would be away from home again, on the next morning; but he hoped to call at the hotel in the course of the day. Observing Toff's face with grave and steady scrutiny, Rufus tried to extract some further information from him. But the old Frenchman stood on his dignity, in a state of immovable reserve.
"You took me by the shoulder this morning, sir, and spun me round," he said; "I do not desire to be treated a second time like a teetotum. For the rest, it is not my habit to intrude myself into my master's secrets."
"It's not my habit," Rufus coolly rejoined, "to bear malice. I beg to apologise sincerely, sir, for treating you like a teetotum; and I offer you my hand."
Toff had got as far as the door. He instantly returned, with the dignity which a Frenchman can always command in the serious emergencies of his life. "You appeal to my heart and my honour, sir," he said. "I bury the events of the morning in oblivion; and I do myself the honour of taking your hand."
As the door closed on him, Rufus smiled grimly. "You're not in the habit of intruding yourself into your master's secrets," he repeated. "If Amelius reads your face as I read it, he'll look over his shoulder when he goes out tomorrow—and, ten to one, he'll see you behind him in the distance!"
Late on the next day, Amelius presented himself at the hotel. In speaking of Sally, he was unusually reserved, merely saying that she was ill, and under medical care, and then changing the subject. Struck by the depressed and anxious expression of his face, Rufus asked if he had heard from Regina. No: a longer time than usual had passed since Regina had written to him. "I don't understand it," he said sadly. "I suppose you didn't see anything of her in Paris?"
Rufus had kept his promise not to mention Regina's name in Sally's presence. But it was impossible for him to look at Amelius, without plainly answering the question put to him, for the sake of the friend whom he loved. "I'm afraid there's trouble coming to you, my son, from that quarter." With those warning words, he described all that had passed between Regina and himself. "Some unknown enemy of yours has spoken against you to her uncle," he concluded. "I suppose you have made enemies, my poor old boy, since you have been in London?"
"I know the man," Amelius answered. "He wanted to marry Regina before I met with her. His name is Melton."
Rufus started. "I heard only yesterday, he was in Paris with Farnaby. And that's not the worst of it, Amelius. There's another of them making mischief—a good friend of mine who has shown a twist in her temper, that has taken me by surprise after twenty years' experience of her. I reckon there's a drop of malice in the composition of the best woman that ever lived—and the men only discover it when another woman steps in, and stirs it up. Wait a bit!" he went on, when he had related the result of his visit to Mrs. Payson. "I have telegraphed to Miss Regina to be patient, and to trust you. Don't you write to defend yourself, till you hear how you stand in her estimation, after my message. Tomorrow's post may tell."
Tomorrow's post did tell.
Two letters reached Amelius from Paris. One from Mr. Farnaby, curt and insolent, breaking off the marriage-engagement. The other, from Regina, expressed with great severity of language. Her weak nature, like all weak natures, ran easily into extremes, and, once roused into asserting itself, took refuge in violence as a shy person takes refuge in audacity. Only a woman of larger and firmer mind would have written of her wrongs in a more just and more moderate tone.
Regina began without any preliminary form of address. She had no heart to upbraid Amelius, and no wish to speak of what she was suffering, to a man who had but too plainly shown that he had no respect for himself, and neither love, nor pity even, for her. In justice to herself, she released him from his promise, and returned his letters and his presents. Her own letters might be sent in a sealed packet, addressed to her at her uncle's place of business in London. She would pray that he might be brought to a sense of the sin that he had committed, and that he might yet live to be a worthy and a happy man. For the rest, her decision was irrevocable. His own letter to Mrs. Payson condemned him—and the testimony of an old and honoured friend of her uncle proved that his wickedness was no mere act of impulse, but a deliberate course of infamy and falsehood, continued over many weeks. From the moment when she made that discovery, he was a stranger to her—and she now bade him farewell.
"Have you written to her?" Rufus asked, when he had seen the letters.
Amelius reddened with indignation. He was not aware of it himself—but his look and manner plainly revealed that Regina had lost her last hold on him. Her letter had inflicted an insult—not a wound: he was outraged and revolted; the deeper and gentler feelings, the emotions of a grieved and humiliated lover, had been killed in him by her stern words of dismissal and farewell.
"Do you think I would allow myself to be treated in that way, without a word of protest?" he said to Rufus. "I have written, refusing to take back my promise. 'I declare, on my word of honour, that I have been faithful to you and to my engagement'—that was how I put it—'and I scorn the vile construction which your uncle and his friend have placed upon an act of Christian mercy on my part.' I wrote more tenderly, before I finished my letter; feeling for her distress, and being anxious above all things not to add to it. We shall see if she has love enough left for me to trust my faith and honour, instead of trusting false appearances. I will give her time."
Rufus considerately abstained from expressing any opinion. He waited until the morning when a reply might be expected from Paris; and then he called at the cottage.
Without a word of comment, Amelius put a letter into his friend's hand. It was his own letter to Regina returned to him. On the back of it, there was a line in Mr. Farnaby's handwriting:—"If you send any more letters they will be burnt unopened." In those insolent terms the wretch wrote with bankruptcy and exposure hanging over his head.
Rufus spoke plainly upon this. "There's an end of it now," he said. "That girl would never have made the right wife for you, Amelius: you're well out of it. Forget that you ever knew these people; and let us talk of something else. How is Sally?"
At that ill-timed inquiry, Amelius showed his temper again. He was in a state of nervous irritability which made him apt to take offence, where no offence was intended. "Oh, you needn't be alarmed!" he answered petulantly; "there's no fear of the poor child coming back to live with me. She is still under the doctor's care."
Rufus passed over the angry reply without notice, and patted him on the shoulder. "I spoke of the girl," he said, "because I wanted to help her; and I can help her, if you will let me. Before long, my son, I shall be going back to the United States. I wish you would go with me!"
"And desert Sally!" cried Amelius.
"Nothing of the sort! Before we go, I'll see that Sally is provided for to your satisfaction. Will you think of it, to please me?"
Amelius relented. "Anything, to please you," he said.
Rufus noticed his hat and gloves on the table, and left him without saying more. "The trouble with Amelius," he thought, as he closed the cottage gate, "is not over yet."
The day on which worthy old Surgeon Pinfold had predicted that Sally would be in a fair way of recovery had come and gone; and still the medical report to Amelius was the same:—"You must be patient, sir; she is not well enough to see you yet."
Toff, watching his young master anxiously, was alarmed by the steadily progressive change in him for the worse, which showed itself at this time. Now sad and silent, and now again bitter and irritable, he had deteriorated physically as well as morally, until he really looked like the shadow of his former self. He never exchanged a word with his faithful old servant, except when he said mechanically, "good morning" or "good night." Toff could endure it no longer. At the risk of being roughly misinterpreted, he followed his own kindly impulse, and spoke. "May I own to you, sir," he said, with perfect gentleness and respect, "that I am indeed heartily sorry to see you so ill?"
Amelius looked up at him sharply. "You servants always make a fuss about trifles. I am a little out of sorts; and I want a change—that's all. Perhaps I may go to America. You won't like that; I shan't complain if you look out for another situation."
The tears came into the old man's eyes. "Never!" he answered fervently. "My last service, sir, if you send me away, shall be my dearly loved service here."
All that was most tender in the nature of Amelius was touched to the quick. "Forgive me, Toff," he said; "I am lonely and wretched, and more anxious about Sally than words can tell. There can be no change in my life, until my mind is easy about that poor little girl. But if it does end in my going to America, you shall go with me—I wouldn't lose you, my good friend, for the world."
Toff still remained in the room, as if he had something left to say. Entirely ignorant of the marriage engagement between Amelius and Regina, and of the rupture in which it had ended, he vaguely suspected nevertheless that his master might have fallen into an entanglement with some lady unknown. The opportunity of putting the question was now before him. He risked it in a studiously modest form.
"Are you going to America to be married, sir?"
Amelius eyed him with a momentary suspicion. "What has put that in your head?" he asked.
"I don't know, sir," Toff answered humbly—"unless it was my own vivid imagination. Would there be anything very wonderful in a gentleman of your age and appearance conducting some charming person to the altar?"
Amelius was conquered once more; he smiled faintly. "Enough of your nonsense, Toff! I shall never be married—understand that."
Toff's withered old face brightened slyly. He turned away to withdraw; hesitated; and suddenly went back to his master.
"Have you any occasion for my services, sir, for an hour or two?" he asked.
"No. Be back before I go out, myself—be back at three o'clock."
"Thank you, sir. My little boy is below, if you want anything in my absence."
The little boy dutifully attending Toff to the gate, observed with grave surprise that his father snapped his fingers gaily at starting, and hummed the first bars of the Marseillaise. "Something is going to happen," said Toff's boy, on his way back to the house.
From the Regent's Park to Blackacre Buildings is almost a journey from one end of London to the other. Assisted for part of the way by an omnibus, Toff made the journey, and arrived at the residence of Surgeon Pinfold, with the easy confidence of a man who knew thoroughly well where he was going, and what he was about. The sagacity of Rufus had correctly penetrated his intentions; he had privately followed his master, and had introduced himself to the notice of the surgeon—with a mixture of motives, in which pure devotion to the interests of Amelius played the chief part. His experience of the world told him that Sally's departure was only the beginning of more trouble to come. "What is the use of me to my master," he had argued, "except to spare him trouble, in spite of himself?"
Surgeon Pinfold was prescribing for a row of sick people, seated before him on a bench. "You're not ill, are you?" he said sharply to Toff. "Very well, then, go into the parlour and wait."
The patients being dismissed, Toff attempted to explain the object of his visit. But the old naval surgeon insisted on clearing the ground by means of a plain question first. "Has your master sent you here—or is this another private interview, like the last?"
"It is all that is most private," Toff answered; "my poor master is wasting away in unrelieved wretchedness and suspense. Something must be done for him. Oh, dear and good sir, help me in this most miserable state of things! Tell me the truth about Miss Sally!"
Old Pinfold put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the parlour wall, looking at the Frenchman with a complicated expression, in which genuine sympathy mingled oddly with a quaint sense of amusement. "You're a worthy chap," he said; "and you shall have the truth. I have been obliged to deceive your master about this troublesome young Sally; I have stuck to it that she is too ill to see him, or to answer his letters. Both lies. There's nothing the matter with her now, but a disease that I can't cure, the disease of a troubled mind. She's got it into her head that she has everlastingly degraded herself in his estimation by leaving him and coming here. It's no use telling her—what, mind you, is perfectly true—that she was all but out of her senses, and not in the least responsible for what she did at the time when she did it. She holds to her own opinion, nevertheless. 'What can he think of me, but that I have gone back willingly to the disgrace of my old life? I should throw myself out of the window, if he came into the room!' That's how she answers me—and, what makes matters worse still, she's breaking her heart about him all the time. The poor wretch is so eager for any little word of news about his health and his doings, that it's downright pitiable to see her. I don't think her fevered little brain will bear it much longer—and hang me if I can tell what to do next to set things right! The two women, her friends, have no sort of influence over her. When I saw her this morning, she was ungrateful enough to say, 'Why didn't you let me die?' How your master got among these unfortunate people is more than I know, and is no business of mine; I only wish he had been a different sort of man. Before I knew him as well as I know him now, I predicted, like a fool, that he would be just the person to help us in managing the girl. I have altered my opinion. He's such a glorious fellow—so impulsive and so tender-hearted—that he would be certain, in her present excited state, to do her more harm than good. Do you know if he is going to be married?"
Toff, listening thus far in silent distress, suddenly looked up.
"Why do you ask me, sir?"
"It's an idle question, I dare say," old Pinfold remarked. "Sally persists in telling us she's in the way of his prospects in life—and it's got somehow into her perverse little head that his prospects in life mean his marriage, and she's in the way of that.—Hullo! are you going already?"
"I want to go to Miss Sally, sir. I believe I can say something to comfort her. Do you think she will see me?"
"Are you the man who has got the nickname of Toff? She sometimes talks about Toff."
"Yes, sir, yes! I am Theophile Leblond, otherwise Toff. Where can I find her?"
Surgeon Pinfold rang a bell. "My errand-boy is going past the house, to deliver some medicine," he answered. "It's a poor place; but you'll find it neat and nice enough—thanks to your good master. He's helping the two women to begin life again out of this country; and, while they're waiting their turn to get a passage, they've taken an extra room and hired some decent furniture, by your master's own wish. Oh, here's the boy; he'll show you the way. One word before you go. What do you think of saying to Sally?"
"I shall tell her, for one thing, sir, that my master is miserable for want of her."
Surgeon Pinfold shook his head. "That won't take you very far on the way to persuading her. You will make her miserable too—and there's about all you will get by it."
Toff lifted his indicative forefinger to the side of his nose. "Suppose I tell her something else, sir? Suppose I tell her my master is not going to be married to anybody?"
"She won't believe you know anything about it."
"She will believe, for this reason," said Toff, gravely; "I put the question to my master before I came here; and I have it from his own lips that there is no young lady in the way, and that he is not—positively not—going to be married. If I tell Miss Sally this, sir, how do you say it will end? Will you bet me a shilling it has no effect on her?"
"I won't bet a farthing! Follow the boy—and tell young Sally I have sent her a better doctor than I am."
While Toff was on his way to Sally, Toff's boy was disturbing Amelius by the announcement of a visitor. The card sent in bore this inscription: "Brother Bawkwell, from Tadmor."
Amelius looked at the card; and ran into the hall to receive the visitor, with both hands held out in hearty welcome. "Oh, I am so glad to see you!" he cried. "Come in, and tell me all about Tadmor!"
Brother Bawkwell acknowledged the enthusiastic reception offered to him by a stare of grim surprise. He was a dry, hard old man, with a scrubby white beard, a narrow wrinkled forehead, and an obstinate lipless mouth; fitted neither by age nor temperament to be the intimate friend of any of his younger brethren among the Community. But, at that saddest time of his life, the heart of Amelius warmed to any one who reminded him of his tranquil and happy days at Tadmor. Even this frozen old Socialist now appeared to him, for the first time, under the borrowed aspect of a welcome friend.
Brother Bawkwell took the chair offered to him, and opened the proceedings, in solemn silence, by looking at his watch. "Twenty-five minutes past two," he said to himself—and put the watch back again.
"Are you pressed for time?" Amelius asked.
"Much may be done in ten minutes," Brother Bawkwell answered, in a Scotch accent which had survived the test of half a lifetime in America. "I would have you know I am in England on a mission from the Community, with a list of twenty-seven persons in all, whom I am appointed to confer with on matters of varying importance. Yours, friend Amelius, is a matter of minor importance. I can give you ten minutes."
He opened a big black pocket-book, stuffed with a mass of letters; and, placing two of them on the table before him, addressed Amelius as if he was making a speech at a public meeting.
"I have to request your attention to certain proceedings of the Council at Tadmor, bearing date the third of December last; and referring to a person under sentence of temporary separation from the Community, along with yourself—"
"Mellicent!" Amelius exclaimed.
"We have no time for interruptions," Brother Bawkwell remarked. "The person is Sister Mellicent; and the business before the Council was to consider a letter, under her signature, received December second. Said letter," he proceeded, taking up one of his papers, "is abridged as follows by the Secretary to the Council. In substance, the writer states (first): 'That the married sister under whose protection she has been living at New York is about to settle in England with her husband, appointed to manage the branch of his business established in London. (Second): That she, meaning Sister Mellicent, has serious reasons for not accompanying her relatives to England, and has no other friends to take charge of her welfare, if she remains in New York. (Third): That she appeals to the mercy of the Council, under these circumstances, to accept the expression of her sincere repentance for the offence of violating a Rule, and to permit a friendless and penitent creature to return to the only home left to her, her home at Tadmor.' No, friend Amelius—we have no time for expressions of sympathy; the first half of the ten minutes has nearly expired. I have further to notify you that the question was put to the vote, in this form: 'Is it consistent with the serious responsibility which rests on the Council, to consider the remission of any sentence justly pronounced under the Book of Rules?' The result was very remarkable; the votes for and against being equally divided. In this event, as you know, our laws provide that the decision rests with the Elder Brother—who gave his vote thereupon for considering the remission of the sentence; and moved the next resolution that the sentence be remitted accordingly. Carried by a small majority. Whereupon, Sister Mellicent was received again at Tadmor."
"Ah, the dear old Elder Brother," cried Amelius—"always on the side of mercy!"
Brother Bawkwell held up his hand in protest. "You seem to have no idea," he said, "of the value of time. Do be quiet! As travelling representative of the Council, I am further instructed to say, that the sentence pronounced against yourself stands duly remitted, in consequence of the remission of the sentence against Sister Mellicent. You likewise are free to return to Tadmor, at your own will and pleasure. But—attend to what is coming, friend Amelius!—the Council holds to its resolution that your choice between us and the world shall be absolutely unbiased. In the fear of exercising even an indirect influence, we have purposely abstained from corresponding with you. With the same motive we now say, that if you do return to us, it must be with no interference on our part. We inform you of an event that has happened in your absence—and we do no more."
He paused, and looked again at his watch. Time proverbially works wonders. Time closed his lips.
Amelius replied with a heavy heart. The message from the Council had recalled him from the remembrance of Mellicent to the sense of his own position. "My experience of the world has been a very hard one," he said. "I would gladly go back to Tadmor this very day, but for one consideration—" He hesitated; the image of Sally was before him. The tears rose in his eyes; he said no more.
Brother Bawkwell, driven hard by time, got on his legs, and handed to Amelius the second of the two papers which he had taken out of his pocket-book.
"Here is a purely informal document," he said; "being a few lines from Sister Mellicent, which I was charged to deliver to you. Be pleased to read it as quickly as you can, and tell me if there is any reply."
There was not much to read:—"The good people here, Amelius, have forgiven me and let me return to them. I am living happily now, dear, in my remembrances of you. I take the walks that we once took together—and sometimes I go out in the boat on the lake, and think of the time when I told you my sad story. Your poor little pet creatures are under my care; the dog, and the fawn, and the birds—all well, and waiting for you, with me. My belief that you will come back to me remains the same unshaken belief that it has been from the first. Once more I say it—you will find me the first to welcome you, when your spirits are sinking under the burden of life, and your heart turns again to the friends of your early days. Until that time comes, think of me now and then. Good-bye."
"I am waiting," said Brother Bawkwell, taking his hat in his hand.
Amelius answered with an effort. "Thank her kindly in my name," he said: "that is all." His head drooped while he spoke; he fell into thought as if he had been alone in the room.
But the emissary from Tadmor, warned by the minute-hand on the watch, recalled his attention to passing events. "You would do me a kindness," said Brother Bawkwell, producing a list of names and addresses, "if you could put me in the way of finding the person named, eighth from the top. It's getting on towards twenty minutes to three."
The address thus pointed out was at no great distance, on the northern side of the Regent's Park. Amelius, still silent and thoughtful, acted willingly as a guide. "Please thank the Council for their kindness to me," he said, when they reached their destination. Brother Bawkwell looked at friend Amelius with a calm inquiring eye. "I think you'll end in coming back to us," he said. "I'll take the opportunity, when I see you at Tadmor, of making a few needful remarks on the value of time."
Amelius went back to the cottage, to see if Toff had returned, in his absence, before he paid his daily visit to Surgeon Pinfold. He called down the kitchen stairs, "Are you there, Toff?" And Toff answered briskly, "At your service, sir."
The sky had become cloudy, and threatened rain. Not finding his umbrella in the hall, Amelius went into the library to look for it. As he closed the door behind him, Toff and his boy appeared on the kitchen stairs; both walking on tiptoe, and both evidently on the watch for something.
Amelius found his umbrella. But it was characteristic of the melancholy change in him that he dropped languidly into the nearest chair, instead of going out at once with the easy activity of happier days. Sally was in his mind again; he was rousing his resolution to set the doctor's commands at defiance, and to insist on seeing her, come what might of it.
He suddenly looked up. A slight sound had startled him.
It was a faint rustling sound; and it came from the sadly silent room which had once been Sally's.
He listened, and heard it again. He sprang to his feet—his heart beat wildly—he opened the door of the room.
She was there.
Her hands were clasped over her fast-heaving breast. She was powerless to look at him, powerless to speak to him—powerless to move towards him, until he opened his arms to her. Then, all the love and all the sorrow in the tender little heart flowed outward to him in a low murmuring cry. She hid her blushing face on his bosom. The rosy colour softly tinged her neck—the unspoken confession of all she feared, and all she hoped.
It was a time beyond words. They were silent in each other's arms.
But under them, on the floor below, the stillness in the cottage was merrily broken by an outburst of dance-music—with a rhythmical thump-thump of feet, keeping time to the cheerful tune. Toff was playing his fiddle; and Toff's boy was dancing to his father's music.
After waiting a day or two for news from Amelius, and hearing nothing, Rufus went to make inquiries at the cottage.
"My master has gone out of town, sir," said Toff, opening the door.
"I don't know, sir."
"Anybody with him?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Any news of Sally?"
"I don't know, sir."
Rufus stepped into the hall. "Look here, Mr. Frenchman, three times is enough. I have already apologized for treating you like a teetotum, on a former occasion. I'm afraid I shall do it again, sir, if I don't get an answer to my next question—my hands are itching to be at you, they are! When is Amelius expected back?"
"Your question is positive, sir," said Toff, with dignity. "I am happy to be able to meet it with a positive reply. My master is expected back in three weeks' time."
Having obtained some information at last, Rufus debated with himself what he should do next. He decided that "the boy was worth waiting for," and that his wisest course (as a good American) would be to go back, and wait in Paris.
Passing through the Garden of the Tuileries, two or three days later, and crossing to the Rue de Rivoli, the name of one of the hotels in that quarter reminded him of Regina. He yielded to the prompting of curiosity, and inquired if Mr. Farnaby and his niece were still in Paris.
The manager of the hotel was in the porter's lodge at the time. So far as he knew, he said, Mr. Farnaby and his niece, and an English gentleman with them, were now on their travels. They had left the hotel with an appearance of mystery. The courier had been discharged; and the coachman of the hired carriage which took them away had been told to drive straight forward until further orders. In short, as the manager put it, the departure resembled a flight. Remembering what his American agent had told him, Rufus received this information without surprise. Even the apparently incomprehensible devotion of Mr. Melton to the interests of such a man as Farnaby, failed to present itself to him as a perplexing circumstance. To his mind, Mr. Melton's conduct was plainly attributable to a reward in prospect; and the name of that reward was—Miss Regina.
At the end of the three weeks, Rufus returned to London.
Once again, he and Toff confronted each other on the threshold of the door. This time, the genial old man presented an appearance that was little less than dazzling. From head to foot he was arrayed in new clothes; and he exhibited an immense rosette of white ribbon in his button-hole.
"Thunder!" cried Rufus. "Here's Mr. Frenchman going to be married!"
Toff declined to humour the joke. He stood on his dignity as stiffly as ever. "Pardon me, sir, I possess a wife and family already."
"Do you, now? Well—none of your know-nothing answers this time. Has Amelius come back?"
"And what's the news of Sally?"
"Good news, sir. Miss Sally has come back too."
"You call that good news, do you? I'll say a word to Amelius. What are you standing there for? Let me by."
"Pardon me once more, sir. My master and Miss Sally do not receive visitors today."
"Your master and Miss Sally?" Rufus repeated. "Has this old creature been liquoring up a little too freely? What do you mean," he burst out, with a sudden change of tone to stern surprise—"what do you mean by putting your master and Sally together?"
Toff shot his bolt at last. "They will be together, sir, for the rest of their lives. They were married this morning."
Rufus received the blow in dead silence. He turned about, and went back to his hotel.
Reaching his room, he opened the despatch box in which he kept his correspondence, and picked out the long letter containing the description by Amelius of his introduction to the ladies of the Farnaby family. He took up the pen, and wrote the indorsement which has been quoted as an integral part of the letter itself, in the Second Book of this narrative:—
"Ah, poor Amelius! He had better have gone back to Miss Mellicent, and put up with the little drawback of her age. What a bright lovable fellow he was! Goodbye to Goldenheart!"
Were the forebodings of Rufus destined to be fulfilled? This question will be answered, it is hoped, in a Second Series of The Fallen Leaves. The narrative of the married life of Amelius presents a subject too important to be treated within the limits of the present story—and the First Series necessarily finds its end in the culminating event of his life, thus far.