"He is something more," said Rhoda. "He is beautiful. If he was dressed as a woman, the gentlemen would all run after him. I think his is the most perfect oval face I ever saw."
"But you must not fall in love with him," said Fanny.
"I do not mean to," said Rhoda. "Falling in love is not my business: and if it was, I should not select Mr. Severne."
"Why not, pray?" inquired Zoe haughtily. Her manner was so menacing that Rhoda did not like to say too much just then. She felt her way. "I am a physiognomist," said she, "and I don't think he can be very truthful. He is old of his age, and there are premature marks under his eyes that reveal craft, and perhaps dissipation. These are hardly visible in the room, but they are in the open air, when you get the full light of day. To be sure, just now his face is marked with care and anxiety; that young man has a good deal on his mind."
Here the observer discovered that even this was a great deal too much. Zoe was displeased, and felt affronted by her remarks, though she did not condescend to notice them; so Rhoda broke off and said, "It is not fair of you, Miss Dover, to set me giving my opinion of people you must know better than I do. Oh, what a garden!" And she was off directly on a tour of inspection. "Come along," said she, "and I will tell you their names and properties."
They could hardly keep up with her, she was so eager. The fruits did not interest her, but only the simples. She was downright learned in these, and found a surprising number. But the fact is, Mr. Lucas had a respect for his predecessors. What they had planted, he seldom uprooted—at least, he always left a specimen. Miss Gale approved his system highly, until she came to a row of green leaves like small horseradish, which was planted by the side of another row that really was horseradish.
"This is too bad, even for Islip," said Miss Gale. "Here is one of our deadliest poisons planted by the very side of an esculent herb, which it resembles. You don't happen to have hired the devil for gardener at any time, do you? Just fancy! any cook might come out here for horseradish, and gather this plant, and lay you all dead at your own table. It is the Aconitum of medicine, the Monk's-hood or Wolf's-bane' of our ancestors. Call the gardener, please, and have every bit of it pulled up by the roots. None of your lives are safe while poisons and esculents are planted together like this."
And she would not budge till Zoe directed a gardener to dig up all the Aconite. A couple of them went to work and soon uprooted it. The gardeners then asked if they should burn it.
"Not for all the world," said Miss Gale. "Make a bundle of it for me to take home. It is only poison in the hands of ignoramuses. It is most sovereign medicine. I shall make tinctures, and check many a sharp ill with it. Given in time, it cuts down fever wonderfully; and when you check the fever, you check the disease."
Soon after this Miss Gale said she had not come to stop; she was on her way to Taddington to buy lint and German styptics, and many things useful in domestic surgery. "For," said she, "the people at Hillstoke are relenting; at least, they run to me with their cut fingers and black eyes, though they won't trust me with their sacred rheumatics. I must also supply myself with vermifuges till the well is dug, and so mitigate puerile puttiness and internal torments."
The other ladies were not sorry to get rid of an irrelevant zealot, who talked neither love, nor dress, nor anything that reaches the soul.
So Zoe said, "What, going already?" and having paid that tax to politeness, returned to the house with alacrity.
But the doctress would not go without her Wolf's-bane, Aconite ycleped.
The irrelevant zealot being gone, the true business of the mind was resumed; and that is love-making, or novelists give us false pictures of life, and that is impossible.
As the doctress drove from the front door, Lord Uxmoor emerged from the library—a coincidence that made both girls smile; he hoped Miss Vizard was not too tired to take another turn.
"Oh no!" said Zoe: "are you, Fanny?"
At the first step they took, Severne came round an angle of the building and joined them. He had watched from the balcony of his bedroom.
Both men looked black at each other, and made up to Zoe. She felt uncomfortable, and hardly knew what to do. However, she would not seem to observe, and was polite, but a little stiff, to both.
However, at last, Severne, having asserted his rights, as he thought, gave way, but not without a sufficient motive, as may be gathered from his first word to Fanny.
"My dear friend, for Heaven's sake, what is the matter? She is angry with me about something. What is it? has she told you?"
"Not a word. But I see she is in a fury with you; and really it is too ridiculous. You told a fib; that is the mighty matter, I do believe. No, it isn't; for you have told her a hundred, no doubt, and she liked you all the better; but this time you have been naughty enough to be found out, and she is romantic, and thinks her lover ought to be the soul of truth."
"Well, and so he ought," said Ned.
"He isn't, then;" and Fanny burst out laughing so loud that Zoe turned round and enveloped them both in one haughty glance, as the exaggerating Gaul would say.
"La! there was a look for you!" said Fanny, pertly: "as if I cared for her black brows."
"I do, though: pray remember that."
"Then tell no more fibs. Such a fuss about nothing! What is a fib?" and she turned up her little nose very contemptuously at all such trivial souls as minded a little mendacity.
Indeed, she disclaimed the importance of veracity so imperiously that Severne was betrayed into saying, "Well, not much, between you and me; and I'll be bound I can explain it."
"Explain it to me, then."
"Well, but I don't know—"
"Which of your fibs it was."
Another silver burst of laughter. But Zoe only vouchsafed a slightly contemptuous movement of her shoulders.
"Well, no," said Severne, half laughing himself at the sprightly jade's smartness.
"Well, then, that friend of yours that called at luncheon."
Severne turned grave directly. "Yes," said he.
"You said he was your lawyer, and came about a lease."
"So he did."
"And his name was Jackson.
"So it was."
"This won't do. You mustn't fib to me! It was Poikilus, a Secret Inquiry; and they all know it; now tell me, without a fib— if you can—what ever did you want with Poikilus?"
Severne looked aghast. He faltered out, "Why, how could they know?"
"Why, he advertises, stupid! and Lord Uxmoor and Harrington had seen it. Gentlemen read advertisements. That is one of their peculiarities."
"Of course he advertises: that is not what I mean. I did not drop his card, did I? No; I am sure I pocketed it directly. What mischief-making villain told them it was Poikilus?"
Fanny colored a little, but said, hastily, "Ah, that I could not tell you."
"The footman, perhaps?"
"I should not wonder." (What is a fib?)
"Oh, don't swear at the servants; that is bad taste."
"Not when he has ruined me?"
"Ruined you?—nonsense! Make up some other fib, and excuse the first."
"I can't. I don't know what to do; and before my rival, too! This accounts for the air of triumph he has worn ever since, and her glances of scorn and pity. She is an angel, and I have lost her."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Fanny Dover. "Be a man, and tell me the truth."
"Well, I will," said he; "for I am in despair. It is all that cursed money at Homburg. I could not clear my estate without it. I dare not go for it. She forbade me; and indeed I can't bear to leave her for anything; so I employed Poikilus to try and learn whether that lady has the money still, and whether she means to rob me of it or not."
Fanny Dover reflected a moment, then delivered herself thus: "You were wrong to tell a fib about it. What you must do now—brazen it out. Tell her you love her, but have got your pride and will not come into her family a pauper. Defy her, to be sure; we like to be defied now and then, when we are fond of the fellow."
"I will do it," said he; "but she shuns me. I can't get a word with her."
Fanny said she would try and manage that for him; and as the rest of their talk might not interest the reader, and certainly would not edify him, I pass on to the fact that she did, that very afternoon, go into Zoe's room, and tell her Severne was very unhappy: he had told a fib; but it was not intended to deceive her, and he wished to explain the whole thing.
"Did he explain it to you?" asked Zoe, rather sharply.
"No; but he said enough to make me think you are using him very hardly. To be sure, you have another string to your bow."
"Oh, that is the interpretation you put."
"It is the true one. Do you think you can make me believe you would have shied him so long if Lord Uxmoor had not been in the house?"
Zoe bridled, but made no reply, and Fanny went to her own room, laughing.
Zoe was much disturbed. She secretly longed to hear Severne justify himself. She could not forgive a lie, nor esteem a liar. She was one of those who could pardon certain things in a woman she would not forgive in a man. Under a calm exterior, she had suffered a noble distress; but her pride would not let her show it. Yet now that he had appealed to her for a hearing, and Fanny knew he had appealed, she began to falter.
Still Fanny was not altogether wrong: the presence of a man incapable of a falsehood, and that man devoted to her, was a little damaging to Severne, though not so much as Miss Artful thought.
However, this very afternoon Lord Uxmoor had told her he must leave Vizard Court to-morrow morning.
So Zoe said to herself, "I need not make opportunities; after to-morrow he will find plenty."
She had an instinctive fear he would tell more falsehoods to cover those he had told; and then she should despise him, and they would both be miserable; for she felt for a moment a horrible dread that she might both love and despise the same person, if it was Edward Severne.
There were several people to dinner, and, as hostess, she managed not to think too much of either of her admirers.
However, a stolen glance showed her they were both out of spirits.
She felt sorry. Her nature was very pitiful. She asked herself was it her fault, and did not quite acquit herself. Perhaps she ought to have been more open and declared her sentiments. Yet would that have been modest in a lady who was not formally engaged? She was puzzled. She had no experience to guide her: only her high breeding and her virginal instincts.
She was glad when the night ended.
She caught herself wishing the next day was gone too.
When she retired Uxmoor was already gone, and Severne opened the door to her. He fixed his eyes on her so imploringly, it made her heart melt; but she only blushed high, and went away sad and silent.
As her maid was undressing her she caught sight of a letter on her table. "What is that?" said she.
"It is a letter," said Rosa, very demurely.
Zoe divined that the girl had been asked to put it there.
Her bosom heaved, but she would not encourage such proceedings, nor let Rosa see how eager she was to hear those very excuses she had evaded.
But, for all that, Rosa knew she was going to read it, for she only had her gown taken off and a peignoir substituted, and her hair let down and brushed a little. Then she dismissed Rosa, locked the door, and pounced on the letter. It lay on her table with the seal uppermost. She turned it round. It was not from him: it was from Lord Uxmoor.
She sat down and read it.
"DEAR MISS VIZARD—I have had no opportunities of telling you all I feel for you, without attracting an attention that might have been unpleasant to you; but I am sure you must have seen that I admired you at first sight. That was admiration of your beauty and grace, though even then you showed me a gentle heart and a sympathy that made me grateful. But, now I have had the privilege of being under the same roof with you, it is admiration no longer—it is deep and ardent love; and I see that my happiness depends on you. Will you confide your happiness to me? I don't know that I could make you as proud and happy as I should be myself; but I should try very hard, out of gratitude as well as love. We have also certain sentiments in common. That would be one bond more.
"But indeed I feel I cannot make my love a good bargain to you, for you are peerless, and deserve a much better lot in every way than I can offer. I can only kneel to you and say, 'Zoe Vizard, if your heart is your own to give, pray be my lover, my queen, my wife.'
"Your faithful servant and devoted admirer,
"Poor fellow!" said Zoe, and her eyes filled. She sat quite quiet, with the letter open in her hand. She looked at it, and murmured, "A pearl is offered me here: wealth, title, all that some women sigh for, and—what I value above all—a noble nature, a true heart, and a soul above all meanness. No; Uxmoor will never tell a falsehood. He could not."
She sighed deeply, and closed her eyes. All was still. The light was faint; yet she closed her eyes, like a true woman, to see the future clearer.
Then, in the sober and deep calm, there seemed to be faint peeps of coming things: It appeared a troubled sea, and Uxmoor's strong hand stretched out to rescue her. If she married him, she knew the worst—an honest man she esteemed, and had almost an affection for, but no love.
As some have an impulse to fling themselves from a height, she had one to give herself to Uxmoor, quietly, irrevocably, by three written words dispatched that night.
But it was only an impulse. If she had written it, she would have torn it up.
Presently a light thrill passed through her: she wore a sort of half-furtive, guilty look, and opened the window.
Ay, there he stood in the moonlight, waiting to be heard.
She did not start nor utter any exclamation. Somehow or other she almost knew he was there before she opened the window.
"Well?" said she, with a world of meaning.
"You grant me a hearing at last."
"I do. But it is no use. You cannot explain away a falsehood."
"Of course not. I am here to confess that I told a falsehood. But it was not you I wished to deceive. I was going to explain the whole thing to you, and tell you all; but there is no getting a word with you since that lord came."
"He had nothing to do with it. I should have been just as much shocked."
"But it would only have been for five minutes. Zoe!"
"Just put yourself in my place. A detective, who ought to have written to me in reply to my note, surprises me with a call. I was ashamed that such a visitor should enter your brother's house to see me. There sat my rival—an aristocrat. I was surprised into disowning the unwelcomed visitor, and calling him my solicitor."
Now if Zoe had been an Old Bailey counsel, she would have kept him to the point, reminded him that his visitor was unseen, and fixed a voluntary falsehood on him; but she was not an experienced cross-examiner, and perhaps she was at heart as indignant at the detective as at the falsehood: so she missed her advantage, and said, indignantly, "And what business had you with a detective? You having one at all, and then calling him your solicitor, makes one think all manner of things."
"I should have told you all about it that afternoon, only our intercourse is broken off to please a rival. Suppose I gave you a rival, and used you for her sake as you use me for his, what would you say? That would be a worse infidelity than sending for a detective, would it not?"
Zoe replied, haughtily, "You have no right to say you have a rival; how dare you? Besides," said she, a little ruefully, "it is you who are on your defense, not me."
"True; I forgot that. Recrimination is not convenient, is it?"
"I can escape it by shutting the window," said Zoe, coldly.
"Oh, don't do that. Let me have the bliss of seeing you, and I will submit to a good deal of injustice without a murmur."
"The detective?" said Zoe, sternly.
"I sent for him, and gave him his instructions, and he is gone for me to Homburg."
"Ah! I thought so. What for?"
"About my money. To try and find out whether they mean to keep it."
"Would you really take it if they would give it you?"
"Of course I would."
"Yet you know my mind about it."
"I know you forbade me to go for it in person: and I obeyed you, did I not?"
"Yes, you did—at the time."
"I do now. You object to my going in person to Homburg. You know I was once acquainted with that lady, and you feel about her a little of what I feel about Lord Uxmoor; about a tenth part of what I feel, I suppose, and with not one-tenth so much reason. Well, I know what the pangs of jealousy are: I will never inflict them on you, as you have on me. But I will have my money, whether you like or not."
Zoe looked amazed at being defied. It was new to her. She drew up, but said nothing.
Severne went on: "And I will tell you why: because without money I cannot have you. My circumstances have lately improved; with my money that lies in Homburg I can now clear my family estate of all incumbrance, and come to your brother for your hand. Oh, I shall be a very bad match even then, but I shall not be a pauper, nor a man in debt. I shall be one of your own class, as I was born—a small landed gentleman with an unencumbered estate."
"That is not the way to my affection. I do not care for money."
"But other people do. Dear Zoe, you have plenty of pride yourself; you must let me have a little. Deeply as I love you, I could not come to your brother and say, 'Give me your sister, and maintain us both.' No, Zoe, I cannot ask your hand till I have cleared my estate; and I cannot clear it without that money. For once I must resist you, and take my chance. There is wealth and a title offered you. I won't ask you to dismiss them and take a pauper. If you don't like me to try for my own money, give your hand to Lord Uxmoor; then I shall recall my detective, and let all go; for poverty or wealth will matter nothing to me: I shall have lost the angel I love: and she once loved me."
He faltered, and the sad cadence of his voice melted her. She began to cry. He turned his head away and cried too.
There was a silence. Zoe broke it first.
"Edward," said she, softly.
"You need not defy me. I would not humiliate you for all the world. Will it comfort you to know that I have been very unhappy ever since you lowered yourself so? I will try and accept your explanation."
He clasped his hands with gratitude.
"Edward, will you grant me a favor?"
"Can you ask?"
"It is to have a little more confidence in one who— Now you must obey me implicitly, and perhaps we may both be happier to-morrow night than we are to-night. Directly after breakfast take your hat and walk to Hillstoke. You can call on Miss Gale, if you like, and say something civil."
"What! go and leave you alone with Lord Uxmoor?"
"Ah, Zoe, you know your power. Have a little mercy."
"Perhaps I may have a great deal—if you obey me."
"I will obey you."
"Then go to bed this minute."
She gave him a heavenly smile, and closed the window.
Next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, Ned Severne said, "Any messages for Hillstoke? I am going to walk up there this morning."
"Embrace my virago for me," said Vizard.
Severne begged to be excused.
He hurried off, and Lord Uxmoor felt a certain relief.
The Master of Arts asked himself what he could do to propitiate the female M. D. He went to the gardener and got him to cut a huge bouquet, choice and fragrant, and he carried it all the way to Hillstoke. Miss Gale was at home. As he was introduced rather suddenly, she started and changed color, and said, sharply, "What do you want?" Never asked him to sit down, rude Thing!
He stood hanging his head like a culprit, and said, with well-feigned timidity, that he came, by desire of Miss Vizard, to inquire how she was getting on, and to hope the people were beginning to appreciate her.
"Oh! that alters the case; any messenger from Miss Vizard is welcome. Did she send me those flowers, too? They are beautiful."
"No. I gathered them myself. I have always understood ladies loved flowers."
"It is only by report you know that, eh? Let me add something to your information: a good deal depends on the giver; and you may fling these out of the window." She tossed them to him.
The Master of Arts gave a humble, patient sigh, and threw the flowers out of the window, which was open. He then sunk into a chair and hid his face in his hands.
Miss Gale colored, and bit her lip. She did not think he would have done that, and it vexed her economical soul. She cast a piercing glance at him, then resumed her studies, and ignored his presence.
But his patience exhausted hers. He sat there twenty minutes, at least, in a state of collapse that bid fair to last forever.
So presently she looked up and affected to start. "What! are you there still?" said she.
"Yes," said be; "you did not dismiss me; only my poor flowers."
"Well," said she, apologetically, "the truth is, I'm not strong enough to dismiss you by the same road."
"It is not necessary. You have only to say, 'Go.' "
"Oh, that would be rude. Could not you go without being told right out?"
"No, I could not. Miss Gale, I can't account for it, but there is some strange attraction. You hate me, and I fear you, yet I could follow you about like a dog. Let me sit here a little longer and see you work."
Miss Gale leaned her head upon her hand, and contemplated him at great length. Finally she adopted a cat-like course. "No," said she, at last; "I am going my rounds: you can come with me, if I am so attractive."
He said he should be proud, and she put on her hat in thirty seconds.
They walked together in silence. He felt as if he were promenading a tiger cat, that might stop any moment to fall upon him.
She walked him into a cottage: there was a little dead wood burning on that portion of the brick floor called the hearth. A pale old man sat close to the fire, in a wooden armchair. She felt his pulse, and wrote him a prescription.
"To Mr. Vizard's housekeeper, Vizard Court:
"Please give the bearer two pounds of good roast beef or mutton, not salted, and one pint port wine,
"RHODA GALE, M. D."
"Here, Jenny," she said to a sharp little girl, the man's grandniece, "take this down to Vizard Court, and if the housekeeper objects, go to the front-door and demand in my name to see the squire or Miss Vizard, and give them the paper. Don't you give it up without the meat. Take this basket on your arm."
Then she walked out of the cottage, and Severne followed her: he ventured to say that was a novel prescription.
She explained. "Physicians are obliged to send the rich to the chemist, or else the fools would think they were slighted. But we need not be so nice with the poor; we can prescribe to do them good. When you inflicted your company on me, I was sketching out a treatise, to be entitled, 'Cure of Disorders by Esculents.' That old man is nearly exsanguis. There is not a drug in creation that could do him an atom of good. Nourishing food may. If not, why, he is booked for the long journey. Well, he has had his innings. He is fourscore. Do you think you will ever see fourscore—you and your vices?"
"Oh, no. But I think you will; and I hope so; for you go about doing good."
"And some people one could name go about doing mischief?"
Severne made no reply.
Soon after they discovered a little group, principally women and children. These were inspecting something on the ground, and chattering excitedly. The words of dire import, "She have possessed him with a devil," struck their ear. But soon they caught sight of Miss Gale, and were dead silent. She said, "What is the matter? Oh, I see, the vermifuge has acted."
It was so: a putty-faced boy had been unable to eat his breakfast; had suffered malaise for hours afterward, and at last had been seized with a sort of dry retching, and had restored to the world they so adorn a number of amphibia, which now wriggled in a heap, and no doubt bitterly regretted the reckless impatience with which they had fled from an unpleasant medicine to a cold-hearted world.
"Well, good people," said Miss Gale, what are you making a fuss about? Are they better in the boy or out of him?"
The women could not find their candor at a moment's notice, but old Giles replied heartily, "Why, hout! better an empty house than a bad tenant."
"That is true," said half a dozen voices at once. They could resist common sense in its liquid form, but not when solidified into a proverb.
"Catch me the boy," said Miss Gale, severely.
Habitual culpability destroys self-confidence; so the boy suspected himself of crime, and instantly took to flight. His companions loved hunting; so three swifter boys followed him with a cheerful yell, secured him, and brought him up for sentence.
"Don't be frightened, Jacob," said the doctress. "I only want to know whether you feel better or worse."
His mother put in her word: "He was ever so bad all the morning."
"Hold your jaw," said old Giles, "and let the boy tell his own tale."
"Well, then," said Jacob, "I was mortal bad, but now do I feel like a feather; wust on't is, I be so blessed hungry now. Dall'd if I couldn't eat the devil—stuffed with thunder and lightning."
"I'll prescribe accordingly," said Miss Gale, and wrote in pencil an order on a beefsteak pie they had sent her from the Court.
The boy's companions put their heads together over this order, and offered their services to escort him.
"No, thank you," said the doctress. "He will go alone, you young monkeys. Your turn will come."
Then she proceeded on her rounds, with Mr. Severne at her heels, until it was past one o'clock.
Then she turned round and faced him. "We will part here," said she, "and I will explain my conduct to you, as you seem in the dark. I have been co-operating with Miss Vizard all this time. I reckon she sent you out of the way to give Lord Uxmoor his opportunity, so I have detained you. While you have been studying medicine, he has been popping the question, of course. Good-by, Mr. Villain."
Her words went through the man like cold steel. It was one woman reading another. He turned very white, and put his hand to his heart. But he recovered himself, and said, "If she prefers another to me, I must submit. It is not my absence for a few hours that will make the difference. You cannot make me regret the hours I have passed in your company. Good-by," and he seemed to leave her very reluctantly.
"One word," said she, softening a little. "I'm not proof against your charm. Unless I see Zoe Vizard in danger, you have nothing to fear from me. But I love her, you understand."
He returned to her directly, and said, in most earnest, supplicating tones, "But will you ever forgive me?"
"I will try."
And so they parted.
He went home at a great rate; for Miss Gale's insinuations had raised some fear in his breast.
Meantime this is what had really passed between Zoe and Lord Uxmoor. Vizard went to his study, and Fanny retired at a signal from Zoe. She rose, but did not go; she walked slowly toward the window; Uxmoor joined her: for he saw he was to have his answer from her mouth.
Her bosom heaved a little, and her cheeks flushed. "Lord Uxmoor," she said, "you have done me the greatest honor any man can pay a woman, and from you it is indeed an honor. I could not write such an answer as I could wish; and, besides, I wish to spare you all the mortification I can."
"Ah!" said Uxmoor, piteously.
"You are worthy of any lady's love; but I have only my esteem to give you, and that was given long ago."
Uxmoor, who had been gradually turning very white, faltered, "I had my fears. Good-by."
She gave him her hand. He put it respectfully to his lips: then turned and left her, sick at heart, but too brave to let it be seen. He preferred her esteem to her pity.
By this means he got both. She put her handkerchief to her eyes without disguise. But he only turned at the door to say, in a pretty firm voice, "God bless you!"
In less than an hour he drove his team from the door, sitting heartbroken and desolate, but firm and unflinching as a rock.
So then, on his return from Hillstoke, Severne found them all at luncheon except Uxmoor. He detailed his visit to Miss Gale, and, while he talked, observed. Zoe was beaming with love and kindness. He felt sure she had not deceived him. He learned, by merely listening, that Lord Uxmoor was gone, and he exulted inwardly.
After luncheon, Elysium. He walked with the two girls, and Fanny lagged behind; and Zoe proved herself no coquette. A coquette would have been a little cross and shown him she had made a sacrifice. Not so Zoe Vizard. She never told him, nor even Fanny, she had refused Lord Uxmoor. She esteemed the great sacrifice she had made for him as a little one, and so loved him a little more that he had cost her an earl's coronet and a large fortune.
The party resumed their habits that Uxmoor had interrupted, and no warning voice was raised.
The boring commenced at Hillstoke, and Doctress Gale hovered over the work. The various strata and their fossil deposits were an endless study, and kept her microscope employed. With this, and her treatise on "Cure by Esculents" she was so employed that she did not visit the Court for some days: then came an invitation from Lord Uxmoor to stay a week with him, and inspect his village. She accepted it, and drove herself in the bailiff's gig, all alone. She found her host attending to his duties, but dejected; so then she suspected, and turned the conversation to Zoe Vizard, and soon satisfied herself he had no hopes in that quarter. Yet he spoke of her with undisguised and tender admiration. Then she said to herself, "This is a man, and he shall have her."
She sat down and wrote a letter to Vizard, telling him all she knew, and what she thought, viz., that another woman, and a respectable one, had a claim on Mr. Severne, which ought to be closely inquired into, and the lady's version heard. "Think of it," said she. "He disowned the woman who had saved his life, he was so afraid I should tell Miss Vizard under what circumstances I first saw him."
She folded and addressed the letter.
But having relieved her mind in some degree by this, she asked herself whether it would not be kinder to all parties to try and save Zoe without an exposure. Probably Severne benefited by his grace and his disarming qualities; for her ultimate resolution was to give him a chance, offer him an alternative: he must either quietly retire, or be openly exposed.
So then she put the letter in her desk, made out her visit, of which no further particulars can be given at present, returned home, and walked down to the Court next morning to have it out with Edward Severne.
But, unfortunately, from the very day she offered him terms up at Hillstoke, the tide began to run in Severne's favor with great rapidity.
A letter came from the detective. Severne received it at breakfast, and laid it before Zoe, which had a favorable effect on her mind to begin.
Poikilus reported that the money was in good hands. He had seen the lady. She made no secret of the thing—the sum was 4,900 pounds, and she said half belonged to her and half to a gentleman. She did not know him, but her agent, Ashmead, did. Poikilus added that he had asked her would she honor that gentleman's draft? She had replied she should be afraid to do that; but Mr. Ashmead should hand it to him on demand. Poikilus summed up that the lady was evidently respectable, and the whole thing square.
Severne posted this letter to his cousin, under cover, to show him he was really going to clear his estate, but begged him to return it immediately and lend him 50 pounds. The accommodating cousin sent him 50 pounds, to aid him in wooing his heiress. He bought her a hoop ring, apologized for its small value, and expressed his regret that all he could offer her was on as small a scale, except his love.
She blushed, and smiled on him, like heaven opening. "Small and great, I take them," said she; and her lovely head rested on his shoulder.
They were engaged.
From that hour he could command a te'te-'a-te'te with her whenever he chose, and his infernal passion began to suggest all manner of wild, wicked and unreasonable hopes.
Meantime there was no stopping. He soon found he must speak seriously to Vizard. He went into his study and began to open the subject. Vizard stopped him. "Fetch the other culprit," said he; and when Zoe came, blushing, he said, "Now I am going to make shorter work of this than you have done. Zoe has ten thousand pounds. What have you got?"
"Only a small estate, worth eight thousand pounds, that I hope to clear of all incumbrances, if I can get my money."
"Fond of each other? Well, don't strike me dead with your eyes. I have watched you, and I own a prettier pair of turtledoves I never saw. Well, you have got love and I have got money. I'll take care of you both. But you must live with me. I promise never to marry."
This brought Zoe round his neck, with tears and kisses of pure affection. He returned them, and parted her hair paternally.
"This is a beautiful world, isn't it?" said he, with more tenderness than cynicism this time.
"Ah, that it is!" cried Zoe, earnestly. "But I can't have you say you will never be as happy as I am. There are true hearts in this heavenly world; for I have found one."
"I have not, and don't mean to try again. I am going in for the paternal now. You two are my children. I have a talisman to keep me from marrying. I'll show it you." He drew a photograph from his drawer, set round with gold and pearls. He showed it them suddenly. They both started. A fine photograph of Ina Klosking. She was dressed as plainly as at the gambling-table, but without a bonnet, and only one rose in her hair. Her noble forehead was shown, and her face, a model of intelligence, womanliness, and serene dignity.
He gazed at it, and they at him and it.
He kissed it. "Here is my Fate," said he. "Now mark the ingenuity of a parent. I keep out of my Fate's way. But I use her to keep off any other little Fates that may be about. No other humbug can ever catch me while I have such a noble humbug as this to contemplate. Ah! and here she is as Siebel. What a goddess! Just look at her. Adorable! There, this shall stand upon my table, and the other shall be hung in my bedroom. Then, my dear Zoe, you will be safe from a stepmother. For I am your father now. Please understand that."
This brought poor Zoe round his neck again with such an effusion that at last he handed her to Severne, and he led her from the room, quite overcome, and, to avoid all conversation about what had just passed, gave her over to Fanny, while he retired to compose himself.
By dinner-time he was as happy as a prince again and relieved of all compunction.
He heard afterward from Fanny that Zoe and she had discussed the incident and Vizard's infatuation, Fanny being specially wroth at Vizard's abuse of pearls; but she told him she had advised Zoe not to mention that lady's name, but let her die out.
And, in point of fact, Zoe did avoid the subject.
There came an eventful day. Vizard got a letter, at breakfast, from his bankers, that made him stare, and then knit his brows. It was about Edward Severne' s acceptances. He said nothing, but ordered his horse and rode into Taddington.
The day was keen but sunny, and, seeing him afoot so early, Zoe said she should like a drive before luncheon. She would show Severne and Fanny some ruins on Pagnell Hill. They could leave the trap at the village inn and walk up the hill. Fanny begged off, and Severne was very glad. The prospect of a long walk up a hill with Zoe, and then a day spent in utter seclusion with her, fired his imagination and made his heart beat. Here was one of the opportunities he had long sighed for of making passionate love to innocence and inexperience.
Zoe herself was eager for the drive, and came down, followed by Rosa with some wraps, and waited in the morning-room for the dog-cart. It was behind time for once, because the careful coachman had insisted on the axle being oiled. At last the sound of wheels was heard. A carriage drew up at the door.
"Tell Mr. Severne," said Zoe. "He is in the dining-room, I think."
But it was not the dog-cart.
A vigilant footman came hastily out and opened the hall door. A lady was on the steps, and spoke to him, but, in speaking, she caught sight of Zoe in the hall. She instantly slipped pass the man and stood within the great door.
"Miss Vizard?" said she.
Zoe took a step toward her and said, with astonishment, "Mademoiselle Klosking!"
The ladies looked at each other, and Zoe saw something strange was coming; for the Klosking was very pale, yet firm, and fixed her eyes upon her as if there was nothing else in sight.
"You have a visitor—Mr. Severne?"
"Yes," said Zoe, drawing up.
"Can I speak with him?"
"He will answer for himself. EDWARD!"
At her call Severne came out hastily behind Ina Klosking.
She turned, and they faced each other.
"Ah!" she cried; and in spite of all, there was more of joy than any other passion in the exclamation.
Not so he. He uttered a scream of dismay, and staggered, white as a ghost, but still glared at Ina Klosking.
Zoe's voice fell on him like a clap of thunder: "What!—Edward!—Mr. Severne!—Has this lady still any right—"
"No, none whatever!" he cried; "it is all past and gone."
"What is past?" said Ina Klosking, grandly. "Are you out of your senses?"
Then she was close to him in a moment, by one grand movement, and took him by both lapels of his coat, and held him firmly. "Speak before this lady," she cried. "Have—I—no—rights—over you?" and her voice was majestic, and her Danish eyes gleamed lightning.
The wretch's knees gave way a moment and he shook in her hands. Then, suddenly, he turned wild. "Fiend! you have ruined me!" he yelled; and then, with his natural strength, which was great, and the superhuman power of mad excitement, he whirled her right round and flung her from him, and dashed out of the door, uttering cries of rage and despair.
The unfortunate lady, thus taken by surprise, fell heavily, and, by cruel ill luck, struck her temple, in falling, against the sharp corner of a marble table. It gashed her forehead fearfully, and she lay senseless, with the blood spurting in jets from her white temple.
Zoe screamed violently, and the hall and the hall staircase seemed to fill by magic.
In the terror and confusion, Harrington Vizard strode into the hall, from Taddington. "What is the matter?" he cried. "A woman killed?"
Some one cried out she had fallen.
"Water, fools—a sponge—don't stand gaping!" and he flung himself on his knees, and raised the woman's head from the floor. One eager look into her white face—one wild cry—"Great God! it is—" He had recognized her.
IT was piteous to see and hear. The blood would not stop; it spurted no longer, but it flowed alarmingly. Vizard sent Harris off in his own fly for a doctor, to save time. He called for ice. He cried out in agony to his servants, "Can none of you think of anything? There—that hat. Here, you women; tear me the nap off with your fingers. My God! what is to be done? She'll bleed to death!" And he held her to his breast, and almost moaned with pity over her, as he pressed the cold sponge to her wound—in vain; for still the red blood would flow.
Wheels ground the gravel. Servants flew to the door, crying, "The doctor! the doctor!"
As if he could have been fetched in five minutes from three miles off.
Yet it was a doctor. Harris had met Miss Gale walking quietly down from Hillstoke. He had told her in a few hurried words, and brought her as fast as the horses could go.
She glided in swiftly, keen, but self-possessed, and took it all in directly.
Vizard saw her, and cried, "Ah! Help!—she is bleeding to death!"
"She shall not," said Rhoda. Then to one footman, "Bring a footstool, you;" to another, "You bring me a cork;" to Vizard, "You hold her toward me so. Now sponge the wound."
This done, she pinched the lips of the wound together with her neat, strong fingers. "See what I do," she said to Vizard. "You will have to do it, while I— Ah, the stool! Now lay her head on that; the other side, man. Now, sir, compress the wound as I did, vigorously. Hold the cork, you, till I want it."
She took out of her pocket some adhesive plaster, and flakes of some strong styptic, and a piece of elastic. "Now," said she to Vizard, "give me a little opening in the middle to plaster these strips across the wound." He did so. Then in a moment she passed the elastic under the sufferer's head, drew it over with the styptic between her finger and thumb, and crack! the styptic was tight on the compressed wound. She forced in more styptic, increasing the pressure, then she whipped out a sort of surgical housewife, and with some cutting instrument reduced the cork, then cut it convex, and fastened it on the styptic by another elastic. There was no flutter, yet it was all done in fifty seconds.
"There," said she, "she will bleed no more, to speak of. Now seat her upright. Why! I have seen her before. This is—sir, you can send the men away."'
"Yes; and, Harris, pack up Mr. Severne's things, and bring them down here this moment."
The male servants retired, the women held aloof. Fanny Dover came forward, pale and trembling, and helped to place Ina Klosking in the hall porter's chair. She was insensible still, but moaned faintly.
Her moans were echoed: all eyes turned. It was Zoe, seated apart, all bowed and broken—ghastly pale, and glaring straight before her.
"Poor girl!" said Vizard. "We forgot her. It is her heart that bleeds. Where is the scoundrel, that I may kill him?" and he rushed out at the door to look for him. The man's life would not have been worth much if Squire Vizard could have found him then.
But he soon came back to his wretched home, and eyed the dismal scene, and the havoc one man had made—the marble floor all stained with blood—Ina Klosking supported in a chair, white, and faintly moaning—Zoe still crushed and glaring at vacancy, and Fanny sobbing round her with pity and terror; for she knew there must be worse to come than this wild stupor.
"Take her to her room, Fanny dear," said Vizard, in a hurried, faltering voice, "and don't leave her. Rosa, help Miss Dover. Do not leave her alone, night nor day." Then to Miss Gale, "She will live? Tell me she will live."
"I hope so," said Rhoda Gale. "Oh, the blow will not kill her, nor yet the loss of blood. But I fear there will be distress of mind added to the bodily shock. And such a noble face! My own heart bleeds for her. Oh, sir, do not send her away to strangers! Let me take her up to the farm. It is nursing she will need, and tact, when she comes to herself."
"Send here away to strangers!" cried Vizard. "Never! No. Not even to the farm. Here she received her wound; here all that you and I can do shall be done to save her. Ah, here's Harris, with the villain's things. Get the lady's boxes out, and put Mr. Severne's into the fly. Give the man two guineas, and let him leave them at the 'Swan,' in Taddington."
He then beckoned down the women, and had Ina Klosking carried upstairs to the very room Severne had occupied.
He then convened the servants, and placed them formally under Miss Gale's orders, and one female servant having made a remark, he turned her out of the house, neck and crop, directly with her month's wages. The others had to help her pack, only half an hour being allowed for her exit.
The house seemed all changed. Could this be Vizard Court? Dead gloom—hurried whispers—and everybody walking softly, and scared—none knowing what might be the next calamity.
Vizard felt sick at heart and helpless. He had done all he could, and was reduced to that condition women bear far better than men—he must wait, and hope, and fear. He walked up and down the carpeted landing, racked with anxiety.
At last there came a single scream of agony from Ina Klosking's room.
It made the strong man quake.
He tapped softly at the door.
Rhoda opened it.
"What is it?" he faltered.
She replied, gravely, "Only what must be. She is beginning to realize what has befallen her. Don't come here. You can do no good. I will run down to you whenever I dare. Give me a nurse to help, this first night."
He went down and sent into the village for a woman who bore a great name for nursing. Then he wandered about disconsolate.
The leaden hours passed. He went to dress, and discovered Ina Klosking's blood upon his clothes. It shocked him first, and then it melted him: he felt an inexpressible tenderness at sight of it. The blood that had flowed in her veins seemed sacred to him. He folded that suit, and tied it up in a silk handkerchief, and locked it away.
In due course he sat down to dinner—we are all such creatures of habit. There was everything as usual, except the familiar faces. There was the glittering plate on the polished sideboard, the pyramid of flowers surrounded with fruits. There were even chairs at the table, for the servants did not know he was to be quite alone. But he was. One delicate dish after another was brought him, and sent away untasted. Soon after dinner Rhoda Gale came down and told him her patient was in a precarious condition, and she feared fever and delirium. She begged him to send one servant up to the farm for certain medicaments she had there, and another to the chemist at Taddington. These were dispatched on swift horses, and both were back in half an hour.
By-and-by Fanny Dover came down to him, with red eyes, and brought him Zoe's love. "But," said she, "don't ask her to come down. She is ashamed to look anybody in the face, poor girl."
"Why? what has she done?"
"Oh, Harrington, she has made no secret of her affection; and now, at sight of that woman, he has abandoned her."
"Tell her I love her more than I ever did, and respect her more. Where is her pride?"
"Pride! she is full of it; and it will help her—by-and-by. But she has a bitter time to go through first. You don't know how she loves him."
"What! love him still, after what he has done?"
"Yes! She interprets it this way and that. She cannot bear to believe another woman has any real right to separate them."
"Separate them! The scoundrel knocked her down for loving him still, and fled from them both. Was ever guilt more clear? If she doubts that he is a villain, tell her from me he is a forger, and has given me bills with false names on them. The bankers gave me notice to-day, and I was coming home to order him out of the house when this miserable business happened."
"A forger! is it possible?" said Fanny. "But it is no use my telling her that sort of thing. If he had committed murder, and was true to her, she would cling to him. She never knew till now how she loved him, nor I neither. She put him in Coventry for telling a lie; but she was far more unhappy all the time than he was. There is nothing to do but to be kind to her, and let her hide her face. Don't hurry her."
"Not I. God help her! If she has a wish, it shall be gratified. I am powerless. She is young. Surely time will cure her of a villain, now he is detected."
Fanny said she hoped so.
The truth is, Zoe had not opened her heart to Fanny. She clung to her, and writhed in her arms; but she spoke little, and one broken sentence contradicted the other. But mental agony, like bodily, finds its vent, not in speech, the brain's great interpreter, but in inarticulate cries, and moans, and sighs, that prove us animals even in the throes of mind. Zoe was in that cruel stage of suffering.
So passed that miserable day.
INA KLOSKING recovered her senses that evening, and asked Miss Gale where she was. Miss Gale told her she was in the house of a friend.
"That," said Miss Gale, "I will tell you by-and-by. You are in good hands, and I am your physician."
"I have heard your voice before," said Ina, "but I know not where; and it is so dark! Why is it so dark?"
"Because too much light is not good for you. You have met with an accident."
"What accident, madam?"
"You fell and hurt your poor forehead. See, I have bandaged it, and now you must let me wet the bandage—to keep your brow cool."
"Thank you, madam," said Ina, in her own sweet but queenly way. "You are very good to me. I wish I could see your face more clearly. I know your voice." Then, after a silence, during which Miss Gale eyed her with anxiety, she said, like one groping her way to the truth, "I—fell—and—hurt—my forehead?—Ah!"
Then it was she uttered the cry that made Vizard quake at the door, and shook for a moment even Rhoda's nerves, though, as a rule, they were iron in a situation of this kind.
It had all come back to Ina Klosking.
After that piteous cry she never said a word. She did nothing but think, and put her hand to her head.
And soon after midnight she began to talk incoherently.
The physician could only proceed by physical means. She attacked the coming fever at once, with the remedies of the day, and also with an infusion of monk's-hood. That poison, promptly administered, did not deceive her. She obtained a slight perspiration, which was so much gained in the battle.
In the morning she got the patient shifted into another bed, and she slept a little after that. But soon she was awake, restless, and raving: still her character pervaded her delirium. No violence. Nothing any sore injured woman need be ashamed to have said: only it was all disconnected. One moment she was speaking to the leader of the orchestra, at another to Mr. Ashmead, at another, with divine tenderness, to her still faithful Severne. And though not hurried, as usual in these cases, it was almost incessant and pitiable to hear, each observation was so wise and good; yet, all being disconnected, the hearer could not but feel that a noble mind lay before him, overthrown and broken into fragments like some Attic column.
In the middle of this the handle was softly turned, and Zoe Vizard came in, pale and somber.
Long before this she had said to Fanny several times, "I ought to go and see her;" and Fanny had said, "Of course you ought."
So now she came. She folded her arms and stood at the foot of the bed, and looked at her unhappy rival, unhappy as possible herself.
What contrary feelings fought in that young breast! Pity and hatred. She must hate the rival who had come between her and him she loved; she must pity the woman who lay there, pale, wounded, and little likely to recover.
And, with all this, a great desire to know whether this sufferer had any right to come and seize Edward Severne by the arm, and so draw down calamity on both the women who loved him.
She looked and listened, and Rhoda Gale thought it hard upon her patient.
But it was not in human nature the girl should do otherwise; so Rhoda said nothing.
What fell from Ina's lips was not of a kind to make Zoe more her friend.
Her mind seemed now like a bird tied by a long silken thread. It made large excursions, but constantly came back to her love. Sometimes that love was happy, sometimes unhappy. Often she said "Edward!" in the exquisite tone of a loving woman; and whenever she did, Zoe received it with a sort of shiver, as if a dagger, fine as a needle, had passed through her whole body.
At last, after telling some tenor that he had sung F natural instead of F sharp, and praised somebody's rendering of a song in "Il Flauto Magico," and told Ashmead to make no more engagements for her at present, for she was going to Vizard Court, the poor soul paused a minute, and uttered a deep moan.
"Struck down by the very hand that was vowed to protect me!" said she. Then was silent again. Then began to cry, and sob, and wring her hands.
Zoe put her hand to her heart and moved feebly toward the door. However, she stopped a moment to say, "I am no use here. You would soon have me raving in the next bed. I will send Fanny." Then she drew herself up. "Miss Gale, everybody here is at your command. Pray spare nothing you can think of to save—my brother's guest."
There came out the bitter drop.
When she had said that, she stalked from the room like some red Indian bearing a mortal arrow in him, but too proud to show it.
But when she got to her own room she flung herself on her sofa, and writhed and sobbed in agony.
Fanny Dover came in and found her so, and flew to her.
But she ordered her out quite wildly. "No, no; go to her, like all the rest, and leave poor Zoe all alone. She is alone."
Then Fanny clung to her, and tried hard to comfort her.
This young lady now became very zealous and active. She divided her time between the two sufferers, and was indefatigable in their service. When she was not supporting Zoe, she was always at Miss Gale's elbow offering her services. "Do let me help you," she said. "Do pray let me help. We are poor at home, and there is nothing I cannot do. I'm worth any three servants."
She always helped shift the patient into a fresh bed, and that was done very often. She would run to the cook or the butler for anything that was wanted in a hurry. She flung gentility and humbug to the winds. Then she dressed in ten minutes, and went and dined with Vizard, and made excuses for Zoe's absence, to keep everything smooth; and finally she insisted on sitting up with Ina Klosking till three in the morning, and made Miss Gale go to bed in the room. "Paid nurses!" said she; "they are no use except to snore and drink the patient's wine. You and I will watch her every moment of the night; and if I'm ever at a loss what to do, I will call you."
Miss Gale stared at her once, and then accepted this new phase of her character.
The fever was hot while it lasted; but it was so encountered with tonics, and port wine, and strong beef soup (not your rubbishy beef tea), that in forty-eight hours it began to abate. Ina recognized Rhoda Gale as the lady who had saved Severne's life at Montpellier, and wept long and silently upon her neck. In due course, Zoe, hearing there was a great change, came in again to look at her. She stood and eyed her. Soon Ina Klosking caught sight of her, and stared at her.
"You here!" said she. "Ah! you are Miss Vizard. I am in your house. I will get up and leave it;" and she made a feeble attempt to rise, but fell back, and the tears welled out of her eyes at her helplessness.
Zoe was indignant, but for the moment more shocked than anything else. She moved away a little, and did not know what to say.
"Let me look at you," said the patient. "Ah! you are beautiful. When I saw you at the theater, you fascinated me. How much more a man? I will resist no more. You are too beautiful to be resisted. Take him, and let me die."
"I do her no good," said Zoe, half sullenly, half trembling.
"Indeed you do not," said Rhoda, bluntly, and almost bitterly. She was all nurse.
"I'll come here no more," said Zoe, sadly but sternly, and left the room.
Then Ina turned to Miss Gale and said, patiently, " I hope I was not rude to that lady—who has broken my heart."
Fanny and Rhoda took each a hand and told her she could not be rude to anybody.
"My friends," said Ina, looking piteously to each in turn, "it is her house, you know, and she is very good to me now—after breaking my heart."
Then Fanny showed a deal of tact. "Her house!" said she. "It is no more hers than mine. Why, this house belongs to a gentleman, and he is mad after music. He knows you very well, though you don't know him, and he thinks you the first singer in Europe."
"You flatter me," said Ina, sadly.
"Well, he thinks so; and he is reckoned a very good judge. Ah! now I think of it, I will show you something, and then you will believe me."
She ran off to the library, snatched up Ina's picture set round with pearls, and came panting in with it. "There," said she; "now you look at that!" and she put it before her eyes. "Now, who is that, if you please?"
"Oh! It is Ina Klosking that was. Please bring me a glass."
The two ladies looked at each other. Miss Gale made a negative signal, and Fanny said, "By-and-by. This will do instead, for it is as like as two peas. Now ask yourself how this comes to be in the house, and set in pearls. Why, they are worth three hundred pounds. I assure you that the master of this house is fanatico per la musica; heard you sing Siebel at Homburg—raved about you—wanted to call on you. We had to drag him away from the place; and he declares you are the first singer in the world; and you cannot doubt his sincerity, for here are the pearls."
Ina Klosking's pale cheek colored, and then she opened her two arms wide, and put them round Fanny's neck and kissed her: her innocent vanity was gratified, and her gracious nature suggested gratitude to her who had brought her the compliment, instead of the usual ungrateful bumptiousness praise elicits from vanity.
Then Miss Gale put in her word—"When you met with this unfortunate accident, I was for taking you up to my house. It is three miles off; but he would not hear of it. He said, 'No; here she got her wound, and here she must be cured.'"
"So," said Fanny, "pray set your mind at ease. My cousin Harrington is a very good soul, but rather arbitrary. If you want to leave this place, you must get thoroughly well and strong, for he will never let you go till you are."
Between these two ladies, clever and cooperating, Ina smiled, and seemed relieved; but she was too weak to converse any more just then.
Some hours afterward she beckoned Fanny to her, and said, "The master of the house—what is his name?"
"La, no; only her half-brother."
"If he is so kind to me because I sing, why comes he not to see me? She has come."
Fanny smiled. "It is plain you are not an Englishwoman, though you speak it so beautifully. An English gentleman does not intrude into a lady's room."
"It is his room."
"He would say that, while you occupy it, it is yours, and not his."
"He awaits my invitation, then."
"I dare say he would come if you were to invite him, but certainly not without."
"I wish to see him who has been so kind to me, and so loves music; but not to-day—I feel unable."
The next day she asked for a glass, and was distressed at her appearance. She begged for a cap.
"What kind of a cap?" asked Fanny.
"One like that," said she, pointing to a portrait on the wall. It was of a lady in a plain brown silk dress and a little white shawl, and a neat cap with a narrow lace border all round her face.
This particular cap was out of date full sixty years; but the house had a storeroom of relics, and Fanny, with Vizard's help, soon rummaged out a cap of the sort, with a narrow frill all round.
Her hair was smoothed, a white silk band passed over the now closed wound, and the cap fitted on her. She looked pale, but angelic.
Fanny went down to Vizard, and invited him to come and see Mademoiselle Klosking—by her desire. "But," she added, "Miss Gale is very anxious lest you should get talking of Severne. She says the fever and loss of blood have weakened her terribly; and if we bring the fever on again, she cannot answer for her life."
"Has she spoken of him to you?"
"Then why should she to me?"
"Because you are a man, and she may think to get the truth out of you: she knows we shall only say what is for the best. She is very deep, and we don't know her mind yet."
Vizard said he would be as guarded as he could; but if they saw him going wrong, they must send him away.
"Oh, Miss Gale will do that, you may be sure," said Fanny.
Thus prepared, Vizard followed Fanny up the stairs to the sick-room.
Either there is such a thing as love at first sight, or it is something more than first sight, when an observant man gazes at a woman for an hour in a blaze of light, and drinks in her looks, her walk, her voice, and all the outward signs of a beautiful soul; for the stout cynic's heart beat at entering that room as it had not beat for years. To be sure, he had not only seen her on the stage in all her glory, but had held her, pale and bleeding, to his manly breast, and his heart warmed to her all the more, and, indeed, fairly melted with tenderness.
Fanny went in and announced him. He followed softly, and looked at her.
Wealth can make even a sick-room pretty. The Klosking lay on snowy pillows whose glossy damask was edged with lace; and upon her form was an eider-down quilt covered with violet-colored satin, and her face was set in that sweet cap which hid her wound, and made her eloquent face less ghastly.
She turned to look at him, and he gazed at her in a way that spoke volumes.
"A seat," said she, softly.
Fanny was for putting one close to her. "No," said Miss Gale, "lower down; then she need not to turn her head."
So he sat down nearer her feet.
"My good host," said she, in her mellow voice, that retained its quality, but not its power, "I desire to thank you for your goodness to a poor singer, struck down—by the hand that was bound to protect her."
Vizard faltered out that there was nothing to thank him for. He was proud to have her under his roof, though deeply grieved at the cause.
She looked at him, and her two nurses looked at her and at each other, as much as to say, "She is going upon dangerous ground."
They were right. But she had not the courage, or, perhaps, as most women are a little cat-like in this, that they go away once or twice from the subject nearest their heart before they turn and pounce on it, she must speak of other things first. Said she, "But if I was unfortunate in that, I was fortunate in this, that I fell into good hands. These ladies are sisters to me," and she gave Miss Gale her hand, and kissed the other hand to Fanny, though she could scarcely lift it; "and I have a host who loves music, and overrates my poor ability." Then, after a pause, "What have you heard me sing?"
"Only Siebel! why, that is a poor little thing."
"So I thought, till I heard you sing it."
"And, after Siebel, you bought my photograph."
"And wasted pearls on it."
"No, madam. I wasted it on pearls."
"If I were well, I should call that extravagant. But it is permitted to flatter the sick—it is kind. Me you overrate, I fear; but you do well to honor music. Ay, I, who lie here wounded and broken-hearted, do thank God for music. Our bodies are soon crushed, our loves decay or turn to hate, but art is immortal."
She could no longer roll this out in her grand contralto, but she could still raise her eyes with enthusiasm, and her pale face was illuminated. A grand soul shone through her, though she was pale, weak, and prostrate.
They admired her in silence.
After a while she resumed, and said, "If I live, I must live for my art alone."
Miss Gale saw her approaching a dangerous topic, so she said, hastily, "Don't say if you live, please, because that is arranged. You have been out of danger this twenty-four hours, provided you do not relapse; and I must take care of that."
"My kind friend," said Ina, "I shall not relapse; only my weakness is pitiable. Sometimes I can scarcely forbear crying, I feel so weak. When shall I be stronger?"
"You shall be a little stronger every three days. There are always ups and downs in convalescence."
"When shall I be strong enough to move?"
"Let me answer that question," said Vizard. "When you are strong enough to sing us Siebel's great song."
"There," said Fanny Dover; "there is a mercenary host for you. He means to have a song out of you. Till then you are his prisoner."
"No, no, she is mine, said Miss Gale; "and she shan't go till she has sung me 'Hail, Columbia.' None of your Italian trash for me."
Ina smiled, and said it was a fair condition, provided that "Hail, Columbia," with which composition, unfortunately, she was unacquainted, was not beyond her powers. "I have often sung for money," said she; "but this time"—here she opened her grand arms and took Rhoda Gale to her bosom—"I shall sing for love."
"Now we have settled that," said Vizard, "my mind is more at ease, and I will retire."
"One moment," said Ina, turning to him. Then, in a low and very meaning voice, "There is something else."
"No doubt there is plenty," said Miss Gale, sharply; "and, by my authority, I postpone it all till you are stronger. Bid us good-by for the present, Mr. Vizard."
"I obey," said he. "But, madam, please remember I am always at your service. Send for me when you please, and the oftener the better for me."
"Thank you, my kind host. Oblige me with your hand."
He gave her his hand. She took it, and put her lips to it with pure and gentle and seemly gratitude, and with no loss of dignity, though the act was humble.
He turned his head away, to hide the emotion that act and the touch of her sweet lips caused him; Miss Gale hurried him out of the room.
"You naughty patient," said she; "you must do nothing to excite yourself."
"Sweet physician, loving nurse, I am not excited."
Miss Gale felt her heart to see.
"Gratitude does not excite," said Ina. "It is too tame a feeling in the best of us."
"That is a fact," said Miss Gale; "so let us all be grateful, and avoid exciting topics. Think what I should feel if you had a relapse. Why, you would break my heart."
"I really think you would, tough as it is. One gets so fond of an unselfish patient. You cannot think how rare they are, dear. You are a pearl. I cannot afford to lose you."
"Then you shall not," said Ina, firmly. "Know that I, who seem so weak, am a woman of great resolution. I will follow good counsel; I will postpone all dangerous topics till I am stronger; I will live. For I will not grieve the true friends calamity has raised me."
Of course Fanny told Zoe all about this interview. She listened gloomily; and all she said was, "Sisters do not go for much when a man is in love."
"Do brothers, when a woman is?" said Fanny.
"I dare say they go for as much as they are worth."
"Zoe, that is not fair. Harrington is full of affection for you. But you will not go near him. Any other man would be very angry. Do pray make an effort, and come down to dinner to-day."
"No, no. He has you and his Klosking. And I have my broken heart. I am alone; and so will be all alone."
She cried and sobbed, but she was obstinate, and Fanny could only let her have her own way in that.
Another question was soon disposed of. When Fanny invited her into the sickroom, she said, haughtily, "I go there no more. Cure her, and send her away—if Harrington will let her go. I dare say she is to be pitied."
"Of course she is. She is your fellow-victim, if you would only let yourself see it."
"Unfortunately, instead of pitying her, I hate her. She has destroyed my happiness, and done herself no good. He does not love her, and never will."
Fanny found herself getting angry, so she said no more; for she was determined nothing should make her quarrel with poor Zoe; but after dinner, being te'te-'a-te'te with Vizard, she told him she was afraid Zoe could not see things as they were; and she asked him if he had any idea what had become of Severne.
"Fled the country, I suppose."
"Are you sure he is not lurking about?"
"To get a word with Zoe—alone."
"He will not come near this. I will break every bone in his skin if he does."
"But he is so sly; he might hang about."
"What for? She never goes out; and if she did, have you so poor an opinion of her as to think she would speak to him?"
"Oh, no! and she would forbid him to speak to her. But he would be sure to persist; and he has such wonderful powers of explanation, and she is blinded by love, I think he would make her believe black was white, if he had a chance; and if he is about, he will get a chance some day. She is doing the very worst thing she could—shutting herself up so. Any moment she will turn wild, and rush out reckless. She is in a dangerous state, you mark my words; she is broken-hearted, and yet she is bitter against everybody, except that young villain, and he is the only enemy she has in the world. I don't believe Mademoiselle Klosking ever wronged her, nor ever will. Appearances are against her; but she is a good woman, or I am a fool. Take my advice, Harrington, and be on your guard. If he had written a penitent letter to Mademoiselle Klosking, that would be a different thing; but he ignores her, and that frightens me for Zoe."
Harrington would not admit that Zoe needed any other safeguard against a detected scoundrel than her own sense of dignity. He consented, however, to take precautions, if Fanny would solemnly promise not to tell Zoe, and so wound her. On that condition, he would see his head-keeper tomorrow, and all the keepers and watchers should be posted so as to encircle the parish with vigilance. He assured Fanny these fellows had a whole system of signals to the ear and eye, and Severne could not get within a mile of the house undetected. "But," said he, "I will not trust to that alone. I will send an advertisement to the local papers and the leading London journals, so worded that the scoundrel shall know his forgery is detected, and that he will be arrested on a magistrate's warrant if he sets foot in Barfordshire."
Fanny said that was capital, and, altogether, he had set her mind at rest.
"Then do as much for me," said Vizard. "Please explain a remarkable phenomenon. You were always a bright girl, and no fool; but not exactly what humdrum people would call a good girl. You are not offended?"
"The idea! Why, I have publicly disowned goodness again and again. You have heard me."
"So I have. But was not that rather deceitful of you? for you have turned out as good as gold. Anxiety has kept me at home of late, and I have watched you. You live for others; you are all over the house to serve two suffering women. That is real charity, not sexual charity, which humbugs the world, but not me. You are cook, housemaid, butler, nurse, and friend to both of them. In an interval of your time, so creditably employed, you come and cheer me up with your bright little face, and give me wise advice. I know that women are all humbugs; only you are a humbug reversed, and deserve a statue—and trimmings. You have been passing yourself off for a naughty girl, and all the time you were an extra good one."
"And that puzzles the woman-hater, the cynical student, who says he has fathomed woman. My poor dear Harrington, if you cannot read so shallow a character as I am, how will you get on with those ladies upstairs—Zoe, who is as deep as the sea, and turbid with passion, and the Klosking, who is as deep as the ocean?"
She thought a moment and said, "There, I will have pity on you. You shall understand one woman before you die, and that is me. I'll give you the clew to my seeming inconsistencies—if you will give me a cigarette."
"What! another hidden virtue? You smoke?"
"Not I, except when I happen to be with a noble soul who won't tell."
Vizard found her a Russian cigarette, and lighted his own cigar, and she lectured as follows:
"What women love, and can't do without, if they are young and healthy and spirited, is—Excitement. I am one who pines for it. Now, society is so constructed that to get excitement you must be naughty. Waltzing all night and flirting all day are excitement. Crochet, and church, and examining girls in St. Matthew, and dining en famille, and going to bed at ten, are stagnation. Good girls—that means stagnant girls: I hate and despise the tame little wretches, and I never was one, and never will be. But now look here: We have two ladies in love with one villain— that is exciting. One gets nearly killed in the house—that is gloriously exciting. The other is broken-hearted. If I were to be a bad girl, and say, 'It is not my business; I will leave them to themselves, and go my little mill-round of selfishness as before,' why, what a fool I must be! I should lose Excitement. Instead of that, I run and get thinks for the Klosking—Excitement. I cook for her, and nurse her, and sit up half the night—Excitement. Then I run to Zoe, and do my best for her—and get snubbed—Excitement. Then I sit at the head of your table, and order you—Excitement. Oh, it is lovely!"
"Shall you not be sorry when they both get well, and Routine recommences?"
"Of course I shall. That is the sort of good girl I am. And, oh! when that fatal day comes, how I shall flirt. Heaven help my next flirtee! I shall soon flirt out the stigma of a good girl. You mark my words, I shall flirt with some married man after this. I never did that yet. But I shall; I know I shall. —Ah!—there, I have burned my finger."
"Never mind. That is exciting."
"As such I accept it. Good-by. I must go and relieve Miss Gale. Exit the good girl on her mission of charity—ha! ha!" She hummed a valse 'a deux temps, and went dancing out with such a whirl that her petticoats, which were ample, and not, as now, like a sack tied at the knees, made quite a cool air in the room.
She had not been gone long when Miss Gale came down, full of her patient. She wanted to get her out of bed during the daytime, but said she was not strong enough to sit up. Would he order an invalid couch down from London? She described the article, and where it was to be had.
He said Harris should go up in the morning and bring one down with him.
He then put her several questions about her patient; and at last asked her, with an anxiety he in vain endeavored to conceal, what she thought was the relation between her and Severne.
Now it may be remembered that Miss Gale had once been on the point of telling him all she knew, and had written him a letter. But at that time the Klosking was not expected to appear on the scene in person. Were she now to say she had seen her and Severne living together, Rhoda felt that she should lower her patient. She had not the heart to do that.
Rhoda Gale was not of an amorous temperament, and she was all the more open to female attachments. With a little encouragement she would have loved Zoe, but she had now transferred her affection to the Klosking. She replied to Vizard almost like a male lover defending the object of his affection.
"The exact relation is more than I can tell; but I think he has lived upon her, for she was richer than he was; and I feel sure he has promised her marriage. And my great fear now is lest he should get hold of her and keep his promise. He is as poor as a rat or a female physician; and she has a fortune in her voice, and has money besides, Miss Dover tells me. Pray keep her here till she is quite well, please."
"And then let me have her up at Hillstoke. She is beginning to love me, and I dote on her."
"So do I."
"Ah, but you must not."
"Well, why not?"
"She is not to love any man again who will not marry her. I won't let her. I'll kill her first, I love her so. A rogue she shan't marry, and I can't let you marry her, because, her connection with that Severne is mysterious. She seems the soul of virtue, but I could not let you marry her until things are clearer."
"Make your mind easy. I will not marry her—nor anybody else—till things are a great deal clearer than I have ever found them, where your sex is concerned."
Miss Gale approved the resolution.
Next day Vizard posted his keepers, and sent his advertisements to the London and country journals.
Fanny came into his study to tell him there was more trouble—Miss Maitland taken seriously ill, and had written to Zoe.
"Poor old soul!" said Vizard. "I have a great mind to ride over and see her."
"Somebody ought to go," said Fanny.
"Well, you go."
"How can I—with Zoe, and Mademoiselle Klosking, and you, to look after?"
"Instead of one old woman. Not much excitement in that."
"No, cousin. To think of your remembering! Why, you must have gone to bed sober."
"I often do."
"You were always an eccentric landowner."
"Don't you talk. You are a caricature."
This banter was interrupted by Miss Gale, who came to tell Harrington Mademoiselle Klosking desired to see him, at his leisure.
He said he would come directly.
"Before you go," said Miss Gale, "let us come to an understanding. She had only two days' fever; but that fever, and the loss of blood, and the shock to her nerves, brought her to death's door by exhaustion. Now she is slowly recovering her strength, because she has a healthy stomach, and I give her no stimulants to spur and then weaken her, but choice and simple esculents, the effect of which I watch, and vary them accordingly. But the convalescent period is always one of danger, especially from chills to the body, and excitements to the brain. At no period are more patients thrown away for want of vigilance. Now I can guard against chills and other bodily things, but not against excitements—unless you co-operate. The fact is, we must agree to avoid speaking about Mr. Severne. We must be on our guard. We must parry; we must evade; we must be deaf, stupid, slippery; but no Severne—for five or six days more, at all events."
Thus forewarned, Vizard, in due course, paid his second visit to Ina Klosking.
He found her propped up with pillows this time. She begged him to be seated.
She had evidently something on her mind, and her nurses watched her like cats.
"You are fond of music, sir?"
"Not of all music. I adore good music, I hate bad, and I despise mediocre. Silence is golden, indeed, compared with poor music."
"You are right, sir. Have you good music in the house?"
"A little. I get all the operas, and you know there are generally one or two good things in an opera—among the rubbish. But the great bulk of our collection is rather old-fashioned. It is sacred music—oratorios, masses, anthems, services, chants. My mother was the collector. Her tastes were good, but narrow. Do you care for that sort of music?"
"Sacred music? Why, it is, of all music, the most divine, and soothes the troubled soul. Can I not see the books? I read music like words. By reading I almost hear."
"We will bring you up a dozen books to begin on."
He went down directly; and such was his pleasure in doing anything for the Klosking that he executed the order in person, brought up a little pile of folios and quartos, beautifully bound and lettered, a lady having been the collector.
Now, as he mounted the stairs, with his very chin upon the pile, who should he see looking over the rails at him but his sister Zoe.
She was sadly changed. There was a fixed ashen pallor on her cheek, and a dark circle under her eyes.
He stopped to look at her. "My poor child," said he, "you look very ill."
"I am very ill, dear."
"Would you not be better for a change?"
"Why coop yourself up in your own room? Why deny yourself a brother's sympathy?"
The girl trembled, and tears came to her eyes.
"Is it with me you sympathize?" said she.
"Can you doubt it, Zoe?"
Zoe hung her head a moment, and did not reply. Then she made a diversion. "What are those books? Oh, I see—your mother's music-books. Nothing is too good for her."
"Nothing in the way of music-books is too good for her. For shame! are you jealous of that unfortunate lady?"
Zoe made no reply.
She put her hands before her face, that Vizard might not see her mind.
Then he rested his books on a table, and came and took her head in his hands paternally. "Do not shut yourself up any longer. Solitude is dangerous to the afflicted. Be more with me than ever, and let this cruel blow bind us more closely, instead of disuniting us."
He kissed her lovingly, and his kind words set her tears flowing; but they did her little good—they were bitter tears. Between her and her brother there was now a barrier sisterly love could not pass. He hated and despised Edward Severne; and she only distrusted him, and feared he was a villain. She loved him still with every fiber of her heart, and pined for his explanation of all that seemed so dark.
So then he entered the sick-room with his music-books; and Zoe, after watching him in without seeming to do so, crept away to her own room.
Then there was rather a pretty little scene. Miss Gale and Miss Dover, on each side of the bed, held a heavy music-book, and Mademoiselle Klosking turned the leaves and read, when the composition was worth reading. If it was not, she quietly passed it over, without any injurious comment.
Vizard watched her from the foot of the bed, and could tell in a moment, by her face, whether the composition was good, bad, or indifferent. When bad, her face seemed to turn impassive, like marble; when good, to expand; and when she lighted on a masterpiece, she was almost transfigured, and her face shone with elevated joy.
This was a study to the enamored Vizard, and it did not escape the quick-sighted doctress. She despised music on its own merits, but she despised nothing that could be pressed into the service of medicine; and she said to herself, "I'll cure her with esculents and music."
The book was taken away to make room for another.
Then said Ina Klosking, "Mr. Vizard, I desire to say a word to you. Excuse me, my dear friends."
Miss Gale colored up. She had not foreseen a te'te-'a-te'te between Vizard and her patient. However, there was no help for it, and she withdrew to a little distance with Fanny; but she said to Vizard, openly and expressively, "Remember!"
When they had withdrawn a little way, Ina Klosking fixed her eyes on Vizard, and said, in a low voice, "Your sister!"
Vizard started a little at the suddenness of this, but he said nothing: he did not know what to say.
When she had waited a little, and he said nothing, she spoke again. "Tell me something about her. Is she good? Forgive me: it is not that I doubt."
"She is good, according to her lights."
"Is she proud?"
"Is she just?"
"No. And I never met a woman that was."
"Indeed it is rare. Why does she not visit me?"
"I don't know"
"She blames me for all that has happened."
"I don't know, madam. My sister looks very ill, and keeps her own room. If she does not visit you, she holds equally aloof from us all. She has not taken a single meal with me for some days."
"Since I was your patient and your guest."
"Pray do not conclude from that—Who can interpret a woman?"
"Another woman. Enigmas to you, we are transparent to each other. Sir, will you grant me a favor? Will you persuade Miss Vizard to see me here alone—all alone? It will be a greater trial to me than to her, for I am weak. In this request I am not selfish. She can do nothing for me; but I can do a little for her, to pay the debt of gratitude I owe this hospitable house. May Heaven bless it, from the roof to the foundation stone!"
"I will speak to my sister, and she shall visit you—with the consent of your physician."
"It is well," said Ina Klosking, and beckoned her friends, one of whom, Miss Gale, proceeded to feel her pulse, with suspicious glances at Vizard. But she found the pulse calm, and said so.
Vizard took his leave and went straight to Zoe's room. She was not there. He was glad of that, for it gave him hopes she was going to respect his advice and give up her solitary life.
He went downstairs and on to the lawn to look for her. He could not see her anywhere.
At last, when he had given up looking for her, he found her in his study crouched in a corner.
She rose at sight of him and stood before him. "Harrington," said she, in rather a commanding way, "Aunt Maitland is ill, and I wish to go to her."
Harrington stared at her with surprise. "You are not well enough yourself."
"Quite well enough in body to go anywhere."
"Well, but—" said Harrington.
She caught him up impatiently. "Surely you cannot object to my visiting Aunt Maitland. She is dangerously ill. I had a second letter this morning—see." And she held him out a letter.
Harrington was in a difficulty. He felt sure this was not her real motive; but he did not like to say so harshly to an unhappy girl. He took a moderate course. "Not just now, dear," said he.
"What! am I to wait till she dies?" cried Zoe, getting agitated at his opposition.
"Be reasonable, dear. You know you are the mistress of this house. Do not desert me just now. Consider the position. It is a very chattering county. I entertain Mademoiselle Klosking; I could not do otherwise when she was nearly killed in my hall. But for my sister to go away while she remains here would have a bad effect."
"It is too late to think of that, Harrington. The mischief is done, and you must plead your eccentricity. Why should I bear the blame? I never approved it."
"You would have sent her to an inn, eh?"
"No; but Miss Gale offered to take her."
"Then I am to understand that you propose to mark your reprobation of my conduct by leaving my house."
"What! publicly? Oh no. You may say to yourself that your sister could not bear to stay under the same roof with Mr. Severne's mistress. But this chattering county shall never know my mind. My aunt is dangerously ill. She lives but thirty miles off. She is a fit object of pity. She is a—respectable—lady; she is all alone; no female physician, no flirt turned Sister of Charity, no woman-hater, to fetch and carry for her. And so I shall go to her. I am your sister, not your slave. If you grudge me your horses, I will go on foot."
Vizard was white with wrath, but governed himself like a man. "Go on, young lady!" said he; "go on! Jeer, and taunt, and wound the best brother any young madwoman ever had. But don't think I'll answer you as you deserve. I'm too cunning. If I was to say an unkind word to you, I should suffer the tortures of the damned. So go on!"
"No, no. Forgive me, Harrington. It is your opposition that drives me wild. Oh, have pity on me! I shall go mad if I stay here. Do, pray, pray, pray let me go to Aunt Maitland!"
"You shall go, Zoe. But I tell you plainly, this step will be a blow to our affection—the first."
Zoe cried at that. But as she did not withdraw her request, Harrington told her, with cold civility, that she must be good enough to be ready directly after breakfast to-morrow, and take as little luggage as she could with convenience to herself.
Horses were sent on that night to the "Fox," an inn half-way between Vizard Court and Miss Maitland's place.
In the morning a light barouche, with a sling for luggage, came round, and Zoe was soon seated in it. Then, to her surprise, Harrington came out and sat beside her.
She was pleased at this and said, "What! are you going with me, dear, all that way?"
"Yes, to save appearances," said he; and took out a newspaper to read.
This froze Zoe, and she retired within herself.
It was a fine fresh morning; the coachman drove fast; the air fanned her cheek; the motion was enlivening; the horses's hoofs rang quick and clear upon the road. Fresh objects met the eye every moment. Her heart was as sad and aching as before, but there arose a faint encouraging sense that some day she might be better, or things might take some turn.
When they had rolled about ten miles she said, in a low voice, "Harrington."
"You were right. Cooping one's self up is the way to go mad."
"Of course it is."
"I feel a little better now—a very little."
"I am glad of it."
But he was not hearty, and she said no more.
He was extremely attentive to her all the journey, and, indeed, had never been half so polite to her.
This, however, led to a result he did not intend nor anticipate. Zoe, being now cool, fell into a state of compunction and dismay. She saw his affection leaving her for her, and stiff politeness coming instead.
She leaned forward, put her hands on his knees, and looked, all scared, in his face. "Harrington," she cried, "I was wrong. What is Aunt Maitland to me? You are my all. Bid him turn the horses' heads and go home."
"Why, we are only six miles from the place."
"What does that matter? We shall have had a good long drive together, and I will dine with you after it; and I will ride or drive with you every day, if you will let me."
Vizard could not help smiling. He was disarmed. "You impulsive young monkey," said he, "I shall do nothing of the kind. In the first place, I couldn't turn back from anything; I'm only a man. In the next place, I have been thinking it over, as you have; and this is a good move of ours, though I was a little mortified at first. Occupation is the best cure of love, and this old lady will find you plenty. Besides, nursing improves the character. Look at that frivolous girl Fanny, how she has come out. And you know, Zoe, if you get sick of it in a day or two, you have only to write to me, and I will send for you directly. A short absence, with so reasonable a motive as visiting a sick aunt, will provoke no comments. It is all for the best."
This set Zoe at her ease, and brother and sister resumed their usual manners.
They reached Miss Maitland's house, and were admitted to her sick-room. She was really very ill, and thanked them so pathetically for coming to visit a poor lone old woman that now they were both glad they had come.
Zoe entered on her functions with an alacrity that surprised herself, and Vizard drove away. But he did not drive straight home. He had started from Vizard Court with other views. He had telegraphed Lord Uxmoor the night before, and now drove to his place, which was only five miles distant. He found him at home, and soon told him his errand. "Do you remember meeting a young fellow at my house, called Severne?"
"I do," said Lord Uxmoor, dryly enough.
"Well, he has turned out an impostor."
Uxmoor's eye flashed. He had always suspected Severne of being his rival and a main cause of his defeat. "An impostor?" said he: "that is rather a strong word. Certainly I never heard a gentleman tell such a falsehood as he volunteered about—what's the fellow's name?—a detective."
"Oh, Poikilus. That is nothing. That was one of his white lies. He is a villain all round, and a forger by way of climax."
"A forger! What, a criminal?"
"Rather! Here are his drafts. The drawer and acceptor do not exist. The whole thing was written by Edward Severne, whose indorsement figures on the bill. He got me to cash these bills. I deposit them with you, and I ask you for a warrant to commit him—if he should come this way."
"Is that likely?"
"Not at all; it is a hundred to one he never shows his nose again in Barfordshire. When he was found out, he bolted, and left his very clothes in my house. I packed them off to the 'Swan' at Taddington. He has never been heard of since; and I have warned him, by advertisement, that he will be arrested if ever he sets foot in Barfordshire."