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Title: The Last of the Mortimers: A Story in Two Voices

Author: Mrs. Oliphant

Release date: December 22, 2016 [eBook #51265]
Most recently updated: January 25, 2021

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This file was
produced from images available at The Internet Archive)



A Story in Two Voices.

M R S.   O L I P H A N T,




[All rights reserved.]


The Ladies at the Hall1
The Lieutenant’s Wife48
The Ladies at the Hallcontinued105
The Lieutenant’s Wifecontinued166
The Ladies at the Hallcontinued227
The Lieutenant’s Wifecontinued257


PART I.{1}


Chapter I.

I THOUGHT I heard a slight rustle, as if Sarah had taken off her spectacles, but I was really so interested in the matter which I was then discussing with Mr. Cresswell, our solicitor, that I did not look round, as I certainly should have done in any other circumstances; but imagine my utter amazement and the start which Mr. Cresswell gave, nearly upsetting the ink on the drab table-cover, which never could have got the better of it, when my sister Sarah, who never speaks except to me, and then only in a whisper, pronounced distinctly, loud out, the following words: “His Christian name was Richard Arkwright; he was called after the cotton-spinner; that was the chief thing against him in my father’s days.”

Now it was years and years ago since Sarah had lost her voice. It happened before my father died, when we were both comparatively young people; she had been abroad with him{2} and caught a violent cold on her way home. She was rather proud in those days—it was before she took to knitting—and she had not forgotten then that she was once a beauty. When she saw that her voice was gone for good, Sarah gave up talking. She declared to me privately that to keep up a conversation in that hoarse horrid whisper was more than she could give in to, and though she was a very good Christian in principle she never could be resigned to that loss. At first she kept upstairs in her own room; but after my father’s death she came regularly to the drawing-room, giving everybody to understand that she was not to be spoken to. Poor dear old soul! she was as anxious to hear everything that was said to me as if she had come down off her stilts and taken part in the conversation; but you may suppose what a startling event it was to hear Sarah’s voice.

I gave a jump, as was natural, and ran to her to see what had happened.

“Do be cautious, Milly,” she said, fretfully, in her old whisper; for to be sure I had whisked down her ball of worsted, and caught one of her pins in my new-fashioned buttonholes. “At your age a gentlewoman should move about in a different sort of way. I am quite well, thank you. Please to go back to your occupation, and leave me to carry on mine in peace.”

“But Sarah, my dear soul! you’ve got back your voice!” cried I.

Sarah smiled at me, not with her pretty smile. “People who are strong are always thinking such things,” she said. “You don’t know what it is to be afflicted; go back to your business, please.”

“What does she say, Miss Milly?” cried Mr. Cresswell, quite eagerly, when I went back to the table.

“Oh, nothing at all; it’s all a mistake, I suppose,” said I, feeling a little nettled, “put it down all the same. I dare say it was one of those spirits we hear about nowadays. And a very useful bit of information too, which makes it all the more remarkable, for I never heard they did much good in that way. Richard Arkwright! Of all the names I ever heard, the oddest name for a Mortimer! but put it down.”

Mr. Cresswell put it down as I said. “Richard Arkwright Mortimer is something more of an individual than Blank Mortimer, Esq., that’s true,” said he; “he ought to be something with that name. Begging your pardon, Miss Milly, though he was a Mortimer, he ought to have had either a profession or a trade with that name. Don’t you think now,”{3} he said, lowering his voice, and making a sign at Sarah over his shoulder, “after having broken the ice, something more might be got out of her?”

I shook my head at first, being angry; then I nodded as I came to myself, and at last said—it was all I could say—“We’ll see.”

“Ah, ah, we’ll see—that’ll do, Miss Milly; but don’t lose your temper, my dear lady,” said Mr. Cresswell; “all the county reverences you for an angelic temper, as you well know.”

“Stuff!” said I; “I’ve too much Welsh blood in me for that; but a pack of interlopers, like the rest of you, never know the real mettle of them that come of the soil; we’re as clear of the soil as the ore in the Llangollen mines, we Mortimers; we can do what we have to do, whatever it may be.”

Mr. Cresswell cast up his eyebrows a little, and gave a kind of glance towards Sarah and her knitting. “Well, well, it isn’t bad ore, at all events,” he said, with a chuckle: “but, after all, I suppose the first squire was not dug out of Llewellyn cliff?”

“It will be a vast deal more profitable to find out where the next squire is to come from,” said I; “we are old women both of us; I’d advise you to set things agoing without delay. What would happen, do you suppose, if Sarah and I were both to die without finding an heir? What does happen, by the bye, when such a thing occurs; does it go to the crown?”

“My dear lady, I would not give much for the crown’s chance,” said Cresswell, with, a little shrug of his shoulders. “Heirs-at-law are never so far lost or mislaid but they turn up some time. Birds of the air carry the matter when there’s an estate in question. There’s nothing so safe to be found, in my humble opinion, as an heir-at-law.”

“For I shouldn’t much mind,” said I to myself, thinking over it, “if it went to the Queen. She might fix on the park for autumn quarters, sure, as well as on that outlandish Scotch castle of hers. It’s a great deal nearer, and I make sure it’s prettier; or if she gave it to the Prince of Wales as a present, or to any of the other children, I should not mind for my part. It is not by any means so bad a prospect as I supposed—it might go to the Queen.”

“But, then, what would be done with Mr. Richard Arkwright and his progeny? I’ll be bound he has ten children,” said Mr. Cresswell. “Somebody did leave Her Majesty an{4} estate not so very long ago, and I rather think she sought out the heirs and made it up to them. Depend upon it, Mr. Richard Arkwright would have it out of her. Come, we must stick to the Mortimers, Miss Milly. I’ll go off and see after the advertisements; there’s plenty of time. I don’t believe you mean to be in any hurry out of this world, either Miss Sarah or you.”

“That’s as it may be—that’s as God pleases,” said I; “but you must wait a little first, and I’ll see if I can find out anything further about him. Perhaps some one can think on; we’ll see, we’ll see; more may come.”

Mr. Cresswell nodded his head confidentially. “You don’t remember anything about him yourself?” he said.

“Bless you, I am ten years younger than she is,” said I; “she was a young lady, I was only a child. I neither knew nor cared anything about the Lancashire cousin. Ten years make a great deal of difference when people are young.”

“And when they’re old as well,” said Cresswell, with a little nod of his head. Mr. Cresswell, of course, like all the other people, would never have looked at me when Sarah was present in old days; but now, when we were both old women, the sly old lawyer had wheeled about, and was rather an admirer of mine. I have had admirers since I was fifty; I never had many before.

“Now, are you going to stay to tea?” said I.

“Thank you. I have not the least doubt it would be for my own advantage; my cook is not to be named in the same breath with yours; but I promised to be home to dinner,” said Mr. Cresswell. “Thank you all the same; Sara will be waiting for me.”

“And how is the dear child?” said I.

“Very contrairy,” said Mr. Cresswell, shaking his head. “To tell the truth, I don’t know what to make of her. I had twenty minds to bring her to-day and leave her with you.”

“Bring her next time. I never find her contrairy,” said I. “But perhaps you never were young yourself?”

“Perhaps not, Miss Milly,” he said. “I have had a pretty tough life, anyhow; and it is hard to be thwarted at the last by the only creature one has to love.”

“It is harder not to have a single creature that one has a right to love,” said I a little sharply. “If we had your Sara belonging to us, contrairy or not, we should not have to hunt up a far-off cousin, or advertise for an heir.”{5}

A little passing gleam shot from the solicitor’s eye; he looked at me close for a moment, and then at Sarah, with a lip that moved slightly, as if he were unconsciously saying something within himself; I saw what it was as clear as daylight.

“She’s a good girl,” he said, faltering a little. “I daresay you’d soon have her in hand, Miss Milly; there’s no place she is so fond of as the Park; I’ll bring her out to-morrow.”

And he went away, never thinking that I had seen what was in his mind.

Chapter II.

OUR drawing-room was a very large one. The Mortimers had required large rooms in their day; and I will not say, if we had been young people, and disposed to have company, that we could not have kept it up with any of them; for my father, who lived in a very homely way, proud as he was, had laid up a good deal, and so had we. But though we kept no company, we had not the heart to turn the Mortimer family, of which we were the only remaining representatives, out of their old room. So we had a great screen, made of stamped leather, and which was like everything else, of my grandmother’s days, stretched behind Sarah’s chair, and with a very large bright fire, and a good lamp upon the round table, we managed to find the fireside very comfortable, though we were surrounded by all the ranges of old furniture in the old half-dark room. Old Ellis had to come stumbling as slowly as if the distance had been half a mile between us and the door, when he came into the room with anything; and I dare say impatient young people could not have put up with the rumble of chairs rolled aside, and footstools tripped over, with which he always gave us warning of his coming. For my part I was used to it, and took no notice. Where I sat, the prospect before me was, first, Sarah in her easy chair, close within shade of the screen, and beyond a darkling{6} stretch of space, which a stranger might have made very mysterious, but which I knew perfectly well to be filled with just so many tables, chairs, ottomans, and miscellaneous articles, not one of which could have been stolen away without being missed. On the other side of the room, behind my own chair, was a grand piano in a corner and another waste of old furniture. Many people wondered why we did not make a cosy little sitting-room of the boudoir, which had never been used since my mother’s days. But Sarah, and I may say myself also, was of a different way of thinking. We liked the big room which once had not been at all too big for the Mortimers, and I am not sure that I did not even like the dark bit on either side of us, and the two big old-fashioned mirrors, like magic mirrors in a fairy tale, with a faint trembling of light over them, and all the shadowy depths of the room standing out in them, as if to double the size, which was already so much too great. Sometimes I used to stand and watch myself going across one of those big mirrors. It was a strange weird creature wandering about among the still, silent, deserted household gods. It was not surely me.

Not that I mean to represent myself as a sentimental person—not in the very slightest degree. I am past fifty and stout. My own opinion is that people had best be stout when they are past fifty, and I like my own little comforts as well as anybody of my years. When I was young I was far from being pretty. If I am to state frankly my own ideas on this subject, I would say that I think I might have passed for moderately good-looking, if I had not been sister to a beauty. But when we two were described as the beautiful Miss Mortimer and the plain Miss Mortimer, you may suppose how any little poor pretensions of mine were snubbed at once. To be good-looking was something not expected from Sarah’s sister. But however the tables have rather turned of late. If you asked little Sara Cresswell, for example, who was the pretty Miss Mortimer, I do believe the dear child would say, with the greatest of innocence, “Miss Milly.” At our time of life it doesn’t matter very much, to be sure; but dear, dear, vanity does lie deep! I declare honestly it’s a pleasure to me.

When Sarah and I are by ourselves, we don’t have a great deal of conversation. She has lost her voice, as I said, which makes her decline talking: and I must say, though she never yields to acknowledge it, that I think she’s lost her hearing a little, poor dear old soul! Every night in her life (except{7} Sundays) she reads the Times. That paper gets great abuse in many quarters, especially in the country, where our old Squires, to be sure, are always at it for changing its opinions; but I say, great success, and long life to the Times! that is my opinion. How ever Sarah would get over those long evenings without that paper, I don’t know. It quite keeps us in reading; and I do assure you, we know much more about most things that are going on than a great many men do, who are much more in the world. The Times comes in early, but Sarah never looks at it till after tea. I have to keep out of her sight, indeed, when I glance over it myself in the early part of the day, for Sarah does not approve of daylight reading. She thinks it a waste of time. We have not such a very great deal to occupy us either, as you may suppose; at least Sarah has little, except her knitting, for she will rarely allow me to consult her anything about the property, though she is the eldest. I wonder for my part that she does not weary of her life. She never comes down to breakfast, and I don’t know very well what she and Carson find to busy themselves about till noon in her room upstairs; but at twelve o’clock punctually she comes down all dressed for the day. She does not dress as I do, in the ordinary dress that everybody wears, neither are Sarah’s fashions the same as I remember in our youth, when our waists were just under our arms, and our gowns had “gores” in them. On the contrary, she has taken to a very long waist and tight sleeves, with a worked muslin shawl or scarf over her shoulders. In cold weather the muslin is lined with silk of delicate colours, and her cap, which is always light and pretty (Carson has great taste), trimmed to correspond. Her hair, of course, she always wears in curls at the front. It is quite silver-white, and her face, poor dear soul, is a little pinched and sharp nowadays. When she takes her seat within shelter of the screen at twelve o’clock every day, the muslin shawl, lined with peach, is as pretty as possible in itself: to be sure Sara Cresswell might almost wear it to a ball; but I do declare I thought it looked very chilly to-day on Sarah. Nice white Shetland for instance, which is almost as pretty as lace, or, indeed, one of those beautiful soft fine woollen shawls, would look a great deal better over that purple silk gown, if she could only think so. But to be sure, Sarah will have her own way. There she sat knitting all the time Mr. Cresswell was talking with me, and there she does sit all day long with her basket of wools, and knitting-pins, and patterns. Every other day she takes a drive, goes to{8} church once on Sundays, and reads the Times on all the week evenings. That is exactly how she lives.

Now perhaps this does not appear so odd to anybody else as it does to me; and I am sure I might have got used to it after a dozen years; but only Sarah, you see, has very good abilities, and is not the person to fix herself down like this. And she knows a great deal more of life than I do. My father and she were, I think, near upon ten years abroad after my mother died. What she was doing all that time I know no more than Carson does. Many a rumour went about that she was married, and many an anxious hour I had all by myself at the Park. But when she came back just Miss Mortimer, there was not a soul in the county but was surprised. Such a great beauty! and papa’s eldest daughter and co-heiress! people said it was unaccountable. I can’t say I thought it unaccountable. I never saw anybody that I could fancy myself, except perhaps——, and then he never asked me, you know. It might be precisely the same with Sarah, though she was a beauty. But the wonder to me is that after having lived abroad so long, and having, as I have no doubt she had, a life of her own, which did not merely belong to my father’s daughter, she should just have settled down like this. Many and many a time have I thought it all over, sitting opposite to her of an evening, when tea was over and she was reading the Times. There she sat quite straight up, her muslin shawl with the peach-bottom lining dropping down a little over her shoulders, and her thin hands in their black lace mits holding the paper. She had never reposed any confidence in me, you see. I did not know what might have happened to her when she was out upon the big waves of life. I dare say many a time when I wondered why she took no interest in my affairs, she was back upon that reserve of her own which I knew nothing about. But the odd thing to me is, that after having really had something that one could call a life, something happening to her own self,—don’t you know what I mean?—she should have settled down so fixed and motionless here.

We dined early, which was a prejudice of mine; but as Sarah had a very uncertain appetite, we had always “something” to tea, which was the cause of Mr. Cresswell’s allusion to our cook Evans. Further, we indulged ourselves by having this substantial tea in the drawing-room, which we never left after our early dinner. When tea was over on the night of Mr. Cresswell’s visit, I had some little matters to do which kept me about the room, going from one place to another. As{9} I stood in the shadow looking at the bright fire and lamp, and Sarah reading in her easy chair, I could not prevent a great many inquiries rising in my mind. What was Cousin Richard Arkwright Mortimer to her, for example? He had not been at the Park, nor heard of, so far as I know, for forty years. And then about her voice? On the whole it was very curious. I resolved to try hard for some conversation with Sarah, after she had done with the Times, that night.

Chapter III.

IT was not a very easy matter to draw Sarah into a conversation, especially in the evening. I had to watch my opportunity very carefully. At ten exactly the door opened in the dark distance, and Ellis came rumbling along through the dim depths behind the screen with the sherry and biscuits. Just at the same moment Sarah smoothed out the paper carefully, laid it down, as she always did, on the top of her wool-basket, and held out her hands to warm them at the fire. They were very thin hands in their black lace mits, and they were a little rheumatic sometimes, though she did not like to confess it. She kept rubbing them slowly before the fire.

I poured out her glass of sherry, put the plate of biscuits within her reach, and drew my chair nearer, that I might be sure of hearing what she said. Sarah took no notice of my movements; she rubbed diligently one of her forefingers, the joints of which were a little enlarged, and never so much as glanced at me.

“Did you ever know anything about this cousin Richard of ours, Sarah?” said I.

She did not answer just for a moment, but kept on rubbing her forefinger; when that was finished she answered, “I knew a good deal about him once. I would have married him if they had let me, in the old times.”

I was so thunderstruck by this unexpected frankness that I scarcely knew what to say. At last I stumbled out somehow{10}—“You would have married him!” with a kind of inexpressible amazement; and she saying it so calmly too!

“Yes,” said Sarah, rubbing her middle finger thoughtfully, “he was young, and fresh-looking, and good-tempered. I dare say I could have liked him if they had let me; it is quite true.”

“And would they not let you?” cried I, in my eagerness, thinking that perhaps Sarah was going to confide in me at last.

“No,” she said, pursing up her lips. She seemed to echo the “no” after, in the little nod she gave her head, but she said nothing more.

“And Sarah, tell me, please, if you don’t mind, was it because of his means?” cried I; “was he not rich enough?”

“You don’t know anything about these affairs, Milly,” said Sarah, a little scornfully. “I don’t mind in the least. He was exactly such a man as would have taken your fancy. When I saw him, five years after, I was glad enough they did not let me; though it might have saved a deal of trouble too,” she said to herself in a kind of sigh.

I don’t know how I managed to hear those last words. I am sure she did not think I heard them. You may suppose I grew more curious with every word she spoke.

“And where was it you met him five years after; was it abroad?” said I, with a little flutter in my voice.

I cannot think she was very sharp in her hearing. She gave a little glance up at me, noticing that I paused before the last word; and then seeing me look a little frightened and conscious, she drew herself up all at once, and stopped rubbing her fingers.

“Do you mean to cross-question me, Milly?” she cried, giving a stamp with her foot. “Do you mean to rummage into my affairs and find me out by your questions? You are very much mistaken, I can tell you. I am just as willing as any one that Richard Mortimer should be found out. In making your new heir you shall have no opposition from me.”

“Why, bless us all, Sarah!” said I, “it was your own idea.”

“Very well,” she said, with a little confused heat of manner; “why do you imply that I have any objection? One would suppose, to hear you, that you were trying to find out some secrets of mine.”

“I never knew you had any secrets to find out,” said I, sharply. I knew quite well I was aggravating her, but one must take one’s own part.{11}

She did not make any answer. She got up on her feet, and drew her muslin shawl round her. There was a little nervous tremble about her head and hands; she often had it, but I marked it more than ever to-night. I thought at first she was going away without her sherry, but she thought better of that. However, she went a few steps behind the screen to put her basket aside, a thing she never did; and I think I can see her now, as I saw her in the big mirror, drawing the fingers of one hand through the other, and gliding along through the dark room, all reflected from head to foot in the great glass, with her peach-blossom ribbons nodding tremulously over her grey hair, and her white muslin shawl drawn over her shoulders. Her face, as I saw it in the mirror, had a cloud and agitation upon it, but was set with a fixed smile upon the lips, and a strange, settled, passionate determination. I could no more penetrate what it meant than I could tell why Sarah was angry. It was something within herself that made her so, nothing that I had done or said.

After she was gone I dropped into my chair, and sat there wondering and pondering till the fire had nearly gone out, and the great room was lying blank and chill in the darkness. Now that my thoughts were directed into this channel—and it was very strange to me that they never had been so before—there were a thousand things to think of. When Sarah was twenty and I only ten there was a wonderful difference to be sure between us, and not a great deal less when Sarah was thirty and I twenty; but from that time it had been growing less by degrees, so that we really did not feel nowadays any great difference in our age. But I was only fourteen when my mother died. I had never, of course, been able to share in any of the gaieties, being only in the schoolroom, and certainly never dreamed of criticising my big sister, whom I thought everything that was beautiful and splendid. Then my father and she went away and left me. The Park was let, and I lived with my godmother. I almost forgot that I had a father and sister in the world. They seldom wrote, and we lived entirely out of the world, and never heard even in gossip of the goings on at Rome and Naples, and what place the beautiful Miss Mortimer took there. They came home at last quite suddenly, in the depth of winter. Naturally Sarah had caught a very bad cold. She kept her own room for a very long time after and never saw anybody. Then she lost her voice. I remember I took it quite for granted at the time that it was her cold and the loss of her voice that made her shut herself{12} up; but I must say that once or twice since I have had a little doubt on that subject. She was then not much past five-and-thirty, a very handsome woman. My father lived many years after, but they never, though they had been great companions for so long before, seemed to be at ease in each other’s presence. They never even sat down to dinner together when they could help it. Since then, to be sure, Sarah had begun to live more with me; but what a life it was! I had the concerns of the property to occupy me, and things to manage; besides, I was always out and about in the village and among the neighbours; and still more, I was quite a different woman from Sarah, more homely-like, and had never been out in the world. I wouldn’t for anything be what you might call suspicious of my own only sister; and what I could be suspicious about, even if I wanted to, was more than I knew. Still it was odd, very odd, more particularly after Sarah’s strange words and look. My mind was all in a ferment—I could not tell what to think; but it came upon me as strong as a conviction that something must have happened in those ten years; what it could be was as dark as midnight, but there must be something. That was the end I came to after all my pondering. Ellis came twice into the room to shut up, and twice stumbled off again with his “Beg pardon, ma’am.” It began to feel chilly as the fire went out, and the night grew pale and ghostly in the mirrors. By and by I began to hear those cracks and rustles which one always hears when one sits up late at night. It wasn’t in the furniture, bless you! I know a great deal better than that; the old walnut and satin-wood was all seasoned by a century’s wear. I don’t pretend to say what it was: but I know that I was made very uneasy sitting all by myself, with the fire out, in that big room. When it drew near twelve o’clock, I went to bed.{13}

Chapter IV.

I MIGHT as well, before all this description of our day’s talk and cogitations, have said first who we were.

The Mortimers are an old Cheshire family. We came originally from the other side of the Dee; but we have been settled here in the Park since Henry the Seventh’s time, when to be sure Welshmen were in fashion. The old tower of Wyfod, over Llangollen way, was the cradle of our family. So we have not travelled very far from our origin. We have always been, since we came to the Cheshire side, tolerably prosperous and prudent, not mixing much with politics, having a pretty eye for a bargain, and letting other people get along in their own way; I say so quite frankly, not being ashamed of it. Once, I confess, I felt a little sore that we had no crusading knights nor wild cavaliers among our ancestors; but that, of course, was when I was young. Now I take a different view of affairs. Cavaliers and crusading knights have been generally very expensive luxuries for their families, and must have done a great deal more mischief than a man, however well disposed to it, could do at home. Another circumstance has been good for our purse, but not so good (I fear—so at least it threatens at the present moment) for the prolongation of the race. The Mortimers have never had large families. I suppose few English houses of our rank, or indeed of any rank, can count so few cousins and collateral branches. We have relations, certainly, by my mother’s side, who was one of the Stamfords of Lincolnshire; but except this visionary Richard Arkwright (did ever mortal hear of such a name for a Mortimer!), there is not a single individual remaining of our own name and blood to inherit the property after us, which is a very sad thing to say, and indeed, in some degree, a sort of disgrace to us. The family allowance of children for ever so long has been somewhat about one son and one daughter. The daughter has married off, as was natural, or died unmarried, as, indeed, for a Miss Mortimer, was more natural still; and the son has become the squire, and had a son and a daughter in his turn. In Queen Anne’s time, the then squire, whose name was Lewis, made an unfortunate divergence from the usual custom. He had two girls only; but one of them married, and her husband took our name and{14} arms; the other died very opportunely, and left her sister in full possession, so no harm was done. It is, however, a saying in the family, that the Mortimers are to end in two sisters, and that after them the property is to be divided and alienated from the name. This is one reason why I never was much of a favourite at home. They forgave Sarah, for she was beautiful, and just the person to be an heiress. But co-heiresses are the bugbear of the Mortimers. Ah me! If there had been no such saying as this, or if we had been poor girls, it might have made a difference! Not in me, to be sure; I need not be sentimental about it. I never saw an individual in this world I could have fancied but one, and he, you know, never asked me; so it could not have made the slightest difference to me.

However, if there’s one thing more than another that my heart is set to resist, it is letting this prophecy be fulfilled in our time. I’d rather compass sea and land to find a Mortimer! I’d rather set out, old as I am, and hunt for one with a lantern through the world! Sarah, though she is so capricious and contrary, is of the same mind. It was she who told me of this Mr. Richard Arkwright, whom I had forgotten all about. And yet, you see, after showing such decided interest, she turns upon one so! What a very odd thing it is that she did not marry! I never could make it out, for my part. Nobody could imagine, to see her now, how very pretty, nay, how beautiful she was; and such a way with her! and dressed, to be sure, like a duchess. All the young men in the county were after her before she went abroad. But dear, dear! to think what a changed life when she came home, and lost her voice, and shut herself up in her own room.

There is nothing I dislike more than curiosity, or prying, or suspiciousness; but I should like to know the rights of it—how Sarah went on abroad. To be sure my father was anxious enough that she should get married, and have a good humble-minded husband, who would take the name of Mortimer. It was only me that he would not hear of any proposal for. I don’t think he would have broken his heart if, like the Milly Mortimer in Queen Anne’s time, I had been so obliging as to die.

However, here we are, just as we were in the nursery, two Miss Mortimers. Sarah, who might have had half a dozen good marriages, just the same as I am; and I protest I don’t even know that there are two people existing in the world who have the smallest collateral right to divide the property and take it away from the name; unless Richard Arkwright{15} should happen to have co-heiresses! married to husbands who will not change to Mortimer! Don’t let me think of such a horror!

These are our circumstances in the meantime. It is a very sad thing for a family when there are no collateral branches. I forgot to say that how this Richard Arkwright came about, was by the strange accident of Squire George, who died in 1713, having two sons!

Chapter V.

DURING all this time—and indeed, after all, it was only a single day—I had forgotten all about Mr. Cresswell and his Sara. He and his family had been our family’s solicitors for a great many generations. He knew all our secrets that we knew ourselves. It is only about twenty years since he succeeded his father in the business, and married that pretty delicate young creature, the clergyman’s daughter of St. John’s. She died very early, poor thing, as was to be expected, and Sara is his only child. But, of course, he does not know any more than a baby how to manage a pretty fantastical young girl. They are a very respectable, substantial family in their way, and have been settled in their house in Chester for a very long time—though, of course, it would be absurd to call a family of solicitors an old family—and Mr. Cresswell is very well off in the world, and can give a very pretty fortune to his daughter; yet the covetous old fox has actually a fancy in his mind—I could see it when he was last here—that if Sara only played her cards well she might be heiress of the Park, and succeed Sarah and me. An attorney’s daughter! Not that I mean to put a slight upon Sara, who is our godchild, and a very sweet, pretty girl. But to fancy that old Cresswell could take up such an idea, and I not find him out! It is odd, really, how the cleverest of men deceive themselves. He will take every means to find out Richard Mortimer all the same. He’ll not fail of his duty, however things may turn out, I{16} know that; but to think at the very bottom of his sly old heart that he should have a hankering after the Park! It is quite inconceivable what fancies will take hold of men.

Sara is our godchild, as I said, called Sara Millicent, in token of the kindness that poor Mrs. Cresswell, poor young motherless creature, thought she had received from us. Poor little soul! she little thought then, that the baby she was so proud of, was the only one she was to be spared to bring into the world. From that time till now Sara has been a pet at the Park, and always free to come to us when she wished, or when her father thought it would do her good. This was how she was coming to-day. Perhaps it might be imagined by some people rather a bold thing of one’s family solicitor to bring his daughter to us without an invitation. But you see we were only ladies, and did not stand on our dignity as people do when there are men in the house; and, besides, she was our pet and godchild, which makes all the difference.

Just before dinner, Mr. Cresswell’s one-horse chaise came into the courtyard. We never use the great door except for great people, and when Sarah goes out for her airings. I always use the court entrance, which is much handier, especially in winter, and when there is no fire in the great hall. I really see no use, except on occasions, for a fire in that great hall. It looks miserable, I dare say, but then the coal it consumes is enormous—enough to keep three families in the village comfortably warmed—and we keep no lackeys to lounge about there, and be in the way. A good respectable family servant, like Ellis, with plenty of maids, is much more to my taste than those great saucy fellows, who have not the heart of a mouse. But this is quite apart from what I was saying. Sarah had come down just the same as ever, except that she had her brown gown on,—she wears a different gown every day in the week,—and her muslin shawl lined with blue, and of course blue ribbons in her cap to correspond. Carson, after all, is really a wonderful milliner. She seemed to have forgotten, or at least passed over, our little quarrel, for she spoke just the same as usual, and said, as she always does, that she hoped that I would not forget to order the carriage for her drive. I have given over being nettled about this. She says it regularly, poor dear soul, every other day.

“And little Sara is coming to-day,” said I. “You’ll take her for company, won’t you? It will do the child good.”

“Do her good! why, Cresswell has a carriage!” said Sarah in her whisper; “beggars will ride before all’s done.”{17}

“But he’s nothing of a beggar, quite the reverse; he’s very well-to-do, indeed,” said I. “I think he has a very good right to a one-horse chaise.”

“Ah, to be sure, that makes all the difference,” said Sarah in her sharp way, “I forgot it was but one horse.”

Now her voice, which is rather pleasant when she’s kind, gets a sort of hiss in it when she’s spiteful, and the sound of that “horse,” though I wouldn’t for the world say any harm of my sister, drew out all the hoarseness and unpleasant sound in the strangest way possible. I was quite glad to hear at that moment the wheels in the courtyard.

“There is little Sara,” said I, and went off to fetch her in, very glad to get off, it must be confessed; but glad also, to be sure, to see my little pet, who had always taken so kindly to me. Before I could get to the door which Ellis was holding open, the dear child herself came rushing upon me, fairly driving me a few steps back, and taking away my breath. “You’re not to come into the draught, godmamma. It’s so cold, oh, it’s so cold! I thought my nose would be off,” cried Sara’s voice close to my ear. She was talking and kissing me at the same moment, and after the start she had given me, you may suppose, I did not pick up exactly every word she said. But that was the substance of it, to be sure.

“Why didn’t you wear a veil? You ought to wear a veil, child. We were all supposed to have complexions when I was young,” said I. “Don’t you have any complexions, now, you little girls?”

“Oh, godmamma! I don’t expect ever to hear you talking nonsense,” said Sara severely. “What’s the good of our complexions? We can’t do anything with them that I ever heard of. Come in from the draught, please, for the sake of your dear old nose.”

“You are the rudest little girl I ever knew in my life. Go in, child, go in, and see your godmamma,” said I. “How ever do you manage that girl, Mr. Cresswell? Does she think I don’t know all the draughts in my own house?”

“Ah, my dear lady, she’s contrairy. I told you so—she always was and ever will be,” said Mr. Cresswell, putting down his hat with a sigh. Dear, dear! the poor man certainly had his troubles with that little puss. Manage her, indeed! when, to be sure, as was natural, she made him do exactly just as she pleased.

When we went in after her, he and I, there she was, to be sure, kneeling down on Sarah’s footstool, trying all she could{18} to put my sister’s curls out of order with kissing her. If any one else had dared to do it! But Sara, who never since she was a baby feared any creature, had her way with her godmother as well as with all the rest of us. There’s a great deal in never being afraid.

“Now, go up-stairs, and take off your bonnet, there’s a good child; there’s a fire in your room to warm it for puss in velvet. Go, and come down smooth and nice as your godmamma loves to see you. Dinner will be ready presently, and you must be nice for dinner. There, there, don’t talk any more, Sara, go and smooth your hair.”

“Oh yes, certainly, and then you’ll see what’s happened!” cried Sara, and frisked off out of the room like a little puss as she was.

I dare say the dear child expected nothing less than a great curiosity on my part about what had happened. Poor dear little kitten! she forgot that these little secrets were not such great matters to me. When she was gone we did not say a syllable about Sara; but her good father began to pull about the things on one of the tables behind the screen, and made signs to me with his eyebrows to come and talk to him. When I passed over that way he said quite softly, “Anything more?”

“Not a word,” said I; for, to be sure, that about Sarah marrying if they would have let her was private, and even the family solicitor had nothing to do with it, though, I dare say if the truth were known, he knew all about it better than I did. “Not a word; only, I suppose, I should say he must be about her own age.”

Mr. Cresswell glanced up at me, gave a short little smile, a nod of his head, and a shrug of his shoulders, and understood all about it as if I had told him.

“Was in love with her once, of course—thought so!” he said in his undertone: “you ladies, for one good thing, do think on when we’ve made fools of ourselves about you. It’s always our compensation.”

“We think on after you’ve forgotten all about it—that’s what you mean,” said I.

Mr. Cresswell gave another little shrug with his shoulders, and glanced at the screen behind which Sarah was knitting. “How lovely she was once, to be sure!” he said with a little sigh, and then laughed out at himself, not without a little redness in his face. To speak of a blush in a man of his years would be simply absurd, you know. Such a piece of presumption!{19} I do believe Bob Cresswell had taken it upon him to fall in love with Sarah too in his young days. I could have boxed his ears for him; and to think he should have the audacity to laugh at himself now!

Chapter VI.

THIS conversation of ours, if it could be called a conversation, was luckily interrupted by the entrance of little Sara, who came into the room, lightfooted and noiseless, as such creatures can when they are young. She had on a velvet jacket, over a thick-corded blue silk dress. She must have spent quite a fortune in dress, the little saucy puss. What startled me, however, was her hair. She had a beautiful head of hair, and wore it of course in the fashion, as all young girls ought. Some people were so misguided as to call Sara Cresswell dark-complexioned. They meant she had very dark hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. As for her skin, it was as pure as Sarah’s, who had always been a blonde beauty. But with all the mass of hair she had, when she chose to spread it out and display it, and with her black eyes and small face, I don’t wonder people thought the little witch dark. However, all that was done away now. There she stood before me, laughing, and making her curtsey, with short little curls, like a child’s, scarcely long enough to reach to her collar—all her splendid hair gone—a regular crop! I screamed out, as may be supposed; I declare I could have whipped her with the very best will in the world. The provoking, wicked little creature! no wonder her poor father called her contrairy. Dear, dear, to think what odd arrangements there are in this world! I should have brought her under some sort of authority, I promise you; but really, not meaning to be profane, one was really tempted to say to one’s self, what could Providence be thinking of to give such a child to poor old Bob Cresswell, who knew no more how to manage her than I know how to steer a boat?{20}

“I declare I think you are very wicked,” I said when I gained my breath; “I do believe, Sara, you take a delight in vexing your friends. For all the world what good could it do to cut off your hair? Don’t speak to me, child! I declare I am so vexed and provoked and angry, I could cry!”

“Don’t cry, godmamma,” said Sara quite coolly, “or I’ll have it made up into a wig; you can’t fancy how nice it is now. Besides, what was the good of such a lot of hair? Don’t you know that’s what gives people headaches? I thought I had better be wise in time.”

“You little storyteller!” cried I, “you never had a headache in your life.”

“Ah, but prevention is better than cure,” said the wicked little creature with her very demurest look.

“Dinner, Ma’am,” said Ellis at the door. It was just as well for Sara. But I had a great mind to pinch her, as Mr. Thackeray says the ladies do, when we went together to the dining-room. I am sure she deserved it. However, she did not escape a little pinch which touched her, brave as she was. Sarah, I suppose, had not taken the trouble to look at her till we were all seated at table. Then she looked up, quite ignorant of what had happened. Sarah did not start like me, nor scream out; but she looked at little Sara quite composedly, leaning forward to see her all round. When she had quite done, she folded her hands upon her napkin, and smiled. “What a shocking fright you have made of yourself, my dear child,” said Sarah with the most amiable look in the world. Little Sara coloured up in a moment, grew red and furious like a little vixen, and had something angry and wicked on the very tip of her tongue, which however, bold as she was, she dared not say. Mr. Cresswell ventured to give a little mutter and chuckle of a laugh, and how the little witch did look at him! But as for me, though I was glad to have her punished, I could not find in my heart to hear anything said against her without standing up in her defence.

“Well, of course, I am very angry,” said I; “but I can’t say I agree with your godmamma either—it’s pretty enough for that matter.”

“Oh, please, don’t take any trouble about my feelings. I never meant it to be pretty,” said little Sara, quite furious.

“Nice hair is very much in a dark person’s favour. It helps the complexion and harmonises,” said Sarah, who kept always looking at the child in her smiling aggravating way. “People will soon notice the want of it in you, my dear. They will say{21} you are very much gone off in your looks. It’s a pity you were so rash. It does make you a sad fright, whatever Milly says.”

Now, only imagine how little Sara was to bear all this, spoken just in Sarah’s whisper, which made everybody, even Ellis, who was waiting, listen close to hear what she said. It was very seldom she said so many words in one day, not to say at one speaking. She began to eat her soup when she had done her pleasant remarks. And surely I never did remark before how odd the s’s sounded in her poor lost voice. Somehow they seemed to go hissing round the table, as if every word had an s in it. It was a round table, and not very large. Sarah never would do any carving, and I got tired of always doing it. So Ellis managed for us now on the sideboard, knowing foreign ways a little, and a small table suited us best.

“Ah, my dear lady, I wish you’d take her in hand,” said Mr. Cresswell (dear, dear! it is inconceivable how injudicious some people are!); “she’s too many for me.”

“My opinion is,” said I, breaking in as well as I could, seeing that poor little Sara must come to an explosion if they kept it up, “that when a gentleman comes to visit two single ladies, he should let us know what’s going on in the world. Have you never a new curate at St. John’s to tell us of, and are all the officers just exactly as they used to be? You may all be very superior, you wise people. But I do love gossip, I am free to acknowledge. I heard your rector preached in his surplice last Sunday. How did you Evangelicals take that, Mr. Cresswell, eh? For my part, I can’t see where’s the harm in a surplice as you Low Church people do.”

“You and I will never agree in that, Miss Milly,” said Mr. Cresswell; “though, indeed, if Dr. Roberts came into the pulpit in white, I’ve my own idea as to how you’d take it. However, not to speak of surplices, the red-coats are going, I hear. We’re to have a change. The Chestnuts are coming up from Scotland, and our men are ordered to the West Indies. The Colonel doesn’t like it a bit. It’s better for him in one way, but he’s getting to like a steady friendly little society, and not to care for moving. He’s getting up in years, like the rest of us, is the Colonel. This will tell on him, you’ll see.”

“Well, to be sure, when a man’s old, he ought to retire,” said I; “there are always plenty to take his place.”

“Ah, it’s easy to talk,” said Mr. Cresswell. “It’s all very well for us to retire that have made money; but a man that{22} has only his pay, what is he to do? He has got that poor little widow-daughter of his to keep, and Fred is very unsettled, I’m afraid, and little comfort to his father. There’s a deal of difference, Miss Milly, between full-pay and half-pay. He’d have to cut down his living one half if he retired.”

“That’s just exactly what I quarrel with in these grand times of ours,” said I; “what’s the harm of cutting down one’s living one half? My own opinion is, I’d respect a man very much that did it. Great people can do it somehow. I wish you luxurious middle-class people would learn the way. But then you don’t stand by each other when you fall into poverty. You drop your friend when he can’t ask you to dinner. You are good to his children, and patronise them, and forget they were just the same as yours a little while ago. I don’t think we’ll ever come to any good in this country till we get back to knowing how to be poor.”

“My dear lady, England never was in such splendid condition,” said Mr. Cresswell, with a smile at my ignorance. “If we’ve forgotten how to save, we’ve learned how to grow rich.”

“I know all about England,” said I; “we read the Times; don’t you tell me. I’m anything but easy about England. Making money is no substitute in the world for saving it. I tell you, the world won’t be what I call right till a gentleman may be as poor as God pleases, without being ashamed of it; and have the heart to cut down his living one-half too.”

“Well, well Miss Milly, ladies are always optimists,” said Mr. Cresswell; “but I shouldn’t like to be poor myself, nor see Sara tried with economics. She don’t understand anything about them, that’s sure.”

“The more’s the pity. What if she should marry a poor man?” said I.

“She shan’t marry a poor man, my dear lady,” said Mr. Cresswell.

Upon which Sara lighted up. I knew she would. The dear child would do anything out of contradiction.

“Rather a poor one than a rich one, papa,” cried Sara, with a little start of opposition. “Godmamma is always quite right. It’s shocking how everybody worships rich people. If we were to live in a little cottage, now, and make a dozen poor people comfortable! instead of always living in that dull old house, and having the same chairs and tables, and looking at exactly the same things every day. Godmamma! I do so want my room fresh papered. I know every tint of that{23} pattern, till it makes me quite ill to look at it. Wouldn’t it be a thousand times more reasonable and like a Christian, if papa would stop giving stupid dinners, and taking me to stupid parties, and divide all his money with, say, a dozen poor families, and live in a sweet country cottage? It isn’t enough for us, you know, to make us great people. But it would be quite enough to give us all plenty to live upon, the dozen others and ourselves as well. Don’t you think it would be a great deal more like what a man should do, than keeping all one’s money to one’s self, like papa?”

Little Sara grew quite earnest, and her eyes sparkled as she spoke. Her father laughed inwardly under his breath, and thought it just one of her vagaries. She divide all her money with her neighbours, the extravagant little puss in velvet! But don’t suppose Sara was shamming. She was as thoughtless and as prodigal as ever a child was who knew no better. But for all that, she could have done it. She could have found out how to do it. She meant what she said.

Chapter VII.

“BUT you are a very foolish, thoughtless, provoking little puss; there can’t be any mistake about it,” said I.

“Nothing of the sort, godmamma,” said Sara, “such a quantity of time was always taken up with that hair of mine; it had to be brushed out at night, however sleepy I was, and it had to be done I don’t know how many times a day. Think of wasting hours of one’s time upon one’s hair!”

“But, my dear child, you have too much time on your hands. Do you ever do anything in the world, you velvet kitten,” said I.

“If it was anybody else but you, I should be angry, godmamma,” said Sara; “but, indeed, I have tried a quantity of things. As for working, you know I won’t work—I tell everybody{24} so plainly. What’s the good of it? I hate crochet and cushions and footstools. If I had some little children to keep all tidy, there would be some good in it; or if papa was poor I might mend his stockings—but I won’t work now, whatever anybody says.”

“I don’t see any reason why you should not keep some little children tidy, or mend papa’s stockings either, if you would like it,” said I.

“If I would like it!” cried Sara, in high wrath and indignation, “as if that was why I should do it! I don’t think there can be anything more dreadful in life than always having to do just what one likes. Now, look here, godmamma; suppose I was to mend papa’s stockings because I liked it,—oh, how Mary would giggle and laugh and rejoice over me! She has to do it, and doesn’t like it a bit, you may be sure. And suppose I were making frocks for poor children, like the Dorcas society, wouldn’t all the sensible people be on me to say how very much better it would be to have poor women make them and pay them for their work? I could only do what it’s other people’s business to do. I have got no business. The best thing wanted of me is just to sit idle from morning to night and read novels; and nobody understands me either, not even my dear old godmamma, which is hardest of all.”

“But, Sara, if you chose, you could do good; the best thing of all to do—you could——”

“Oh stop, stop, godmamma! I can’t do good. I don’t want to do good. I hate going about and talking to people; and besides, they are all, every one of them,” said Sara, with tears, half of vexation and half of sorrow, sparkling in her eyes, “a great deal better than me.”

I had not a single word to say against this; for indeed, though I said it, because of course it was the right thing to say, I can’t undertake, upon my honour, that I thought a spoiled child like Sara Cresswell was the kind of creature to be much comfort to poor men or poor women labouring hard in the sorrows of this life.

“I went once with Miss Fielding from the Rectory. There was one house,” said Sara, speaking low and getting red, “where they hadn’t so much to live on for the whole year through as papa had to pay for my dressmaker’s bill. He had just been worrying me about it that morning, so I remember. But they weren’t miserable! no more than you are, godmamma! not one half, nor a quarter, nor a hundredth part so miserable as I am! And the woman looked so cheerful and{25} right with the baby in her arms, and all the cleaning to do—I cried and ran off home when I got out of that house. I was ashamed, just dead ashamed, godmamma, and nothing else.—Doing good!—oh!—I think if I were the little girl, coming in to hold the baby, and help to clean, I might get some good myself. But then nobody will understand me whatever I say. I don’t want to invent things to ‘employ my time.’ Employing one’s time is about as bad as improving one’s mind. I want to have something real to do, something that has to be done and nobody but me to do it; and I don’t mind in the least whether I should like it or not.”

“Well, dear,” said I, “you’re not nineteen yet; plenty of time. I dare say you’ll have your hard work some day or other, and won’t like it any more than the rest of us. Have patience, it will all come in time.”

“Then, I suppose,” said Sara, with a little toss of her provoking little head, “I had better just go to sleep till that time comes.”

“Well, my love, papa would save a good deal, no doubt, if there were no dressmaker’s bills. You inconsistent little witch! Here you tell me how disgusted you are with being a rich man’s daughter and having nothing to do, yet you cut off your hair to save time, and go on quite composedly spending as much as would keep a poor family—and more than one poor family, I suspect—on your dressmaker’s bill. Little Sara, what do you mean?”

“The two things have no connection,” said Sara, tossing her head again; “I never pretended that I wanted to save papa’s money. What’s the good of it? I like pretty things to wear, and I don’t care the very least in the world how much money papa has in the bank, or wherever he keeps it. He told me once it was my own means I was wasting, for, of course, it would be all mine when he died,” she went on, her eyes twinkling with proud tears and wounded feeling; “as if that made any difference! But I’ll tell you what, godmamma. If he was to portion out all the money to ourselves and so many other people, just enough to live upon, you’d see how happy I should be in muslin frocks. I know I should! and keep everything so snug and nice at home.”

“Oh, you deluded little child!” said I; “don’t you know there’s ever so much nasty work to do, before everything can be nice as we always have it? Should you like to be a housemaid with your little velvet paws, you foolish little kitten? You don’t know what you’re saying.”{26}

“But I do, though—and I could scratch too,” said the wild little puss, with a glance out of her black eyes which confounded me. I thought the child had gone out of her wits altogether. No wonder her poor father called her contrairy, poor hapless man.

This conversation took place after dinner, when we two went back to the drawing-room. Mr. Cresswell had returned to Chester in his brougham, and Sarah had gone out all by herself for her drive. Perhaps little Sara, after being so aggravated at dinner, would not have gone with my sister even had she been asked; but her godmamma did not ask her. Dear, dear, what a very strange world this is! Poor Sarah chose to go out alone, driving drearily through the winterly trees and hedges; she chose always to turn aside from the village, which might have been a little cheerful, and she never dreamt of calling anywhere, poor soul! I have lived a quiet life enough, but I could not get on without a smile here and a word there, and the sight of my fellow-creatures at least. However, I have no call to censure neighbours, much less my sister. This is how Sara Cresswell and I had time for our long conversation. I broke it off short now, thinking it was about time for Sarah to come in.

“Now little Sara,” said I, “we’ll drop the question what you’re to do as a general question just now; but your godmamma will be in directly. What shall you do while you’re here? Should you like to come and set my papers straight? It’s nice, tiresome, sickening work. It always gives me a headache, but I can’t trust a servant to do it. I think it’s the very work for you.”

“But, dear godmamma, here’s a novel,” said Sara, who was sunk deep in an easy-chair, and had not the very slightest intention of obeying me, “just the very one I wanted, and I see by the first chapter that Emily is my own very favourite heroine. I’ll do it to-morrow, please—to-morrow morning, not to-day.”

“But it must be done to-day.”

“Oh, must! why must? You have only to do what you please—you are not obliged to keep time like a dressmaker or a clerk,” said Sara, reading all the while.

“Oh, you child!” said I; “suppose papa’s dinner was waiting, or his stockings to mend, would you let them stand till you had finished your novel? Oh, you deluded little thing, is that the good workwoman you would be?”

Before I had finished speaking Sara had started like a little{27} sprite out of her chair, tossed the novel into the corner of a distant sofa, and went off like the wind to the library, where I did my business and kept my papers. I had to hurry after her as quickly as I could. A pretty job she would have made of it, had she done it alone!

Chapter VIII.

IF there is one thing I dislike more than another, it is the housemaid, or even Ellis, meddling with my papers. I don’t scold a great deal, in a general way, but I will allow that I don’t spare any of them when they flutter my accounts and receipts about in setting things to rights. So in the course of nature the things get dusty; and I quite expected to see poor little Sara grow pale and give in before she was half through the year’s accounts. But nobody knows the spirit that is in that child. After she had once roused herself to do it, she held at it without an idea of yielding. I saw her look now and again at her little toys of hands, but I took no notice; and on she went at the papers manfully, putting them in as regular order as I could have done myself. It was not such a very important business after all, but still it’s a comfort to see a person set to anything with a will, especially a little spoilt wilful creature that never had anything to do but her own pleasure all her life.

Nearly an hour after we had come into the library somebody came with a gentle knock to the door; thinking it was Ellis, I said, “Come in,” without looking up, waiting for him to speak. But while I sat quietly going on with my business, with Sara close by rustling her papers, I was quite startled and shaken all at once to hear a voice close by me which I did not hear half a dozen times in a twelvemonth, the voice of Carson, Sarah’s maid.

“Bless me, what’s the matter?” I said, looking up at the sound, being really too much startled to notice what she said.{28}

“Nothing, I hope, ma’am,” said Carson, who was very precise and particular. “But my missis is not come in, ma’am, from her drive, and I thought I’d make bold to ask if she was going anywhere as I didn’t know?”

“Sarah not come back from her drive?” said I, looking at my watch; “why, we’ve had lights this half hour, Carson; it’s getting towards five o’clock.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Carson, briefly, not allowing for my surprise, “that is just what I said.”

This pulled me up a little, as you may suppose; but I was seriously put out about Sarah, when I really saw how the matter stood.

“I know nothing about where she was going. Dear, dear, can anything have happened?” I cried, getting a little flustered and anxious; then I jumped up, as was natural, and looked out at the window; though of course nothing was to be seen there but the shrubbery and a corner of the flower-garden. “But I can’t think what could have happened either. The horses are very steady, and Jacob is care itself; besides, we’d have heard directly if anything had gone wrong. No, no, there can’t have been any accident. My sister was just in her usual, Carson, eh?”

“Just in her usual ma’am,” said Carson, like an echo of my voice.

“Then, dear, what can be the matter? it’s only some accident, of course,” said I; “I don’t mean accident, only some chance turn out of the way, or something. Bless me, to think of Sarah out after nightfall! Why don’t you run out to the road and look for the carriage? Call some of the people about. Ring the bell, child, can’t you?—or no, sit still, Sara. I’ll take a peep out at the great gate myself.”

Saying which, I hurried past Carson, brushing against her, as she did not keep out of my way, and snatched a cloak out of the hall, and ran to the gate. It was only twilight out of doors, though we had our lamp lighted. A nice night, grey, a little frosty, but rather pleasant, with the lights twinkling out of the windows. I said to myself, “Nothing I should like better than a brisk walk down to the village; but Sarah, you know—Sarah’s different.” What could keep her out so late? I can’t say I was alarmed, but I did get a little uneasy, especially as I saw Ellis making his way up one road from the gate of the courtyard, and the houseboy running down another. It was Carson’s doings, no doubt; well, well! I ought to be{29} thankful my sister had a maid that was so fond of her; but taking things out of my hands in this way, not only made me angry, as was natural, but flurried me as well.

As I stood there, however, watching, and thinking I surely heard a sound of wheels somewhere in the distance, somebody went past me very suddenly. I could not see where he sprang from, he appeared in such a sudden unexplainable way. I got quite a fright, and, except that he was a gentleman, and probably a young one, I could tell nothing more about the figure that shot across my eyes. Very odd; could he have been hiding in the bushes? What could he want? Who could it be? I certainly hear the carriage now, and there comes the houseboy up the road waving his arms about; but instead of looking for my sister, I looked after this figure that had passed me. It passed Ellis too, and looked in his face, making him start, as it appeared to me, and so went straight on, till the road turned and I could see it no longer. I felt quite as if I had met with an adventure. Could it be some lover of little Sara’s that had followed her out here?—or, dear, dear! could it have anything to do with delaying Sarah’s drive? Just then the carriage came in sight, and I ran back to the house-door to receive my sister and ask what had detained her. She stepped out of the carriage, looking paler than her ordinary, and with that nervous shake in her hands and head, and looked as if she could quite have clutched hold of Carson, who of course was there to receive her.

“Sarah,” cried I, “what in all the world has kept you so long? We were at our wits’ end, thinking something had happened.”

“You’ll be glad to see nothing has happened,” said Sarah, in her whisper, trying hard to be quite composed and like herself as she took hold of Carson’s arm. “The beauty of the evening, you know, drew me a little further than I generally go.”

This she said looking into my face, nay, into my eyes all the time, as if to defy any suspicions or doubt I might have. Her very determination to show that there was no other reason, made it quite evident that there had been something, whatever it was.

I said nothing of course. I had not the least idea what my own suspicions pointed at, nor what they were. So it was not likely I should make any scene, or put it into the servants’ heads to wonder. So I stood still and asked no more questions, while Sarah passed before me, leaning on Carson’s{30} arm, to go upstairs. It was the most simple and reasonable thing in the world; why should she not have gone further than she intended one night in her life? But she did not, that is all.

When I went back to the library, little Sara, extraordinary to relate, was sitting exactly where I left her, busy about the papers. The wilful creature did not seem to have moved during my absence. She was as busy and absorbed as if there was nothing else to do or think of in the world. And while we had been all of a flutter looking for Sarah, she, sitting quiet and undisturbed, had got the greater part of her work finished.

“Sara, you unfeeling child,” said I, “were you not anxious about your godmamma?”

“No,” said Sara, very simply. “Godmamma Sarah, and coachman Jacob, and those two fat old horses could surely all take care of each other. I wasn’t frightened, godmamma. I never heard of any accidents happening to big old stout carriages and horses like yours. I’ve nearly got my work done while you’ve been away.”

This was all the sympathy I got from little Sara. Of course I could no more have told her the puzzle my mind was in than I could have told the servants; but still, you know, an intelligent young person might have guessed by my looks and been a little sympathetic;—though to be sure there is no use pretending with one’s self. I do believe I liked Sara twenty times better for taking no notice;—and then, how cleverly the little kitten had got through her work!

We saw nothing more of Sarah that night. When it was time for tea, Carson came down again with missus’s compliments, and she was tired with her long drive, and would have tea in her own room. I said nothing at all, but handed her the Times. I don’t doubt Sarah had her tea very snug in her nice cosy dressing-room, with Carson purring round her and watching every move she made. I never could manage that sort of thing for my part. Little Sara and I, however, though her godmamma deserted us, were very comfortable, on the whole, downstairs.{31}

Chapter IX.

WE had both been reading almost all the evening. Sara had her novel, and I had the Times Supplement, which I am free to confess I like as well as any other part of the paper. I will not deny that I finished the third volume before I began to the newspaper; but, to be sure, a novel, after you are done with it, is an unsatisfactory piece of work; especially if the evening is only half over, and you have nothing else to begin to. I sat leaning back in my chair, wandering over the advertisements, and very ready for a talk. That is just the time, to be sure, when one wants somebody to talk to. If I had ever been used to the luxury of a favourite maid when I was young, as Sarah was, I do believe I should have been in my own cosy room now as well as Sarah, talking everything over with my Carson. But that is not the way I was brought up, you see. To be sure, as there was ten years of difference between us, nobody had ever looked for me, and Sarah had got quite settled in her heiress ways before I was born. When I was young, I used to think it a sad pity for everybody’s sake that I ever was born, especially after my mother died; however, I changed my views upon that subject a good many years ago. Yet here I sat looking all over the advertisements, and keeping an eye on Sara to see if there was any hope of getting a little conversation out of her. Alas! she was all lapped up and lost in her novel. She thought no more of me than of Sarah’s empty chair. Ah! novels are novels when people are young. I looked at the poor dear child, and admired and smiled at her over the top of the newspaper. If I had been a cabbage, Sara could not have taken less notice of me.

At last she suddenly exclaimed out loud—at something she was reading, of course—“I declare!” as if she had made a discovery, and then stopped short and looked up at me with a sort of challenge, as if defying me to guess what she was thinking of. Then, seeing how puzzled I looked, Sara laughed, but reddened a little as well, to my amazement; and finally, not without the least little touch of confusion, explained herself. To be sure it was quite voluntary, and yet a little unwilling too.

“There’s something here exactly like the Italian gentleman; he that people talk so much about in Chester, you know.”{32}

“I never knew there was an Italian gentleman in Chester. What a piece of news! and you never told me,” said I.

“He only came about a fortnight ago,” said Sara. “It looks quite romantic, you know, godmamma, which is the only reason I have heard anything about it. He came quite in great style to the Angel, and said he was coming to see some friends, and asked all about whether anybody knew where the Countess Sermoneta lived. You may be quite sure nobody had ever heard of such a name in Chester. I heard it all from Lucy Wilde, who had heard it from her brother, who is always playing billiards and things at the Angel—Harry Wilde——”

“That is the poor young man who——”

“Oh, dear godmamma, don’t bother! let one go on with one’s story. Harry Wilde says the Italian came down among them, asking everybody about this Countess Sermoneta, and looking quite bewildered when he found that nobody knew her; but still he was quite lively, and thought it must be some mistake, and laughed, and made sure that this was really Chestare he had come to, and not any other place. But next day, people say, he sent for the landlord and asked all about the families in the neighbourhood, and all of a sudden grew quite grave and serious, and soon after took lodgings in Watergate, and has been seen going about the streets and the walls so much since that everybody knows him. He speaks English quite well—people say so, I mean—and he has a servant with him, the funniest-looking fat fellow you ever saw; no more like a proper Italian servant in a play or a novel than I am; and he calls himself just Mr. Luigi; and that, of course, you know, must be only his Christian name.”

“Nay, indeed, Sara, I don’t know anything about it. There is nothing at all Christianlike in the name, so far as I can see.”

“Well then, I know, godmamma, which is all the same,” cried the impatient little creature; “but then, to be sure, our old Signor Valetti used to tell us they never minded their family names in Italy; and that people might be next-door neighbours for ever so long and never know each other’s surnames. Isn’t it pretty? especially when they have pretty Christian names, as all the Italians have.”

“My dear, if you think Looegee pretty, I don’t,” said I. “Take my word for it, there is nothing like the sensible English names. I’ve had a good deal of experience, and I don’t like your romantic foreigners. For my part, I don’t like{33} people that have a story. People have no right to have stories, child. If you do your duty honestly, and always tell the truth, and never conceal anything, you can’t get up a romance about yourself. As for this Italian fellow and his name——”

“I don’t believe he’s a fellow any more than you are, godmamma,” cried Sara, quite indignantly; “people should know before they condemn; and his name is just plain Lewis when it’s put into English. I did not think you were so prejudiced, indeed I did not—or I never would have told you anything at all about the poor count——”

“Heaven preserve us! he’s a count, is he?” said I. “And what do you know about him, Sara Cresswell, please, that you would quarrel with your own godmother for his sake?”

Sara did not speak for a few minutes, looking very flushed and angry. At last, after a good fight with herself, she started up and threw her arms round my neck. “Dear godmamma, I wouldn’t quarrel with you for anybody in the world,” cried the little impulsive creature. Then she stopped and gave a little toss of her head. “But whatever anybody says, I know it’s quite right to feel kind to the poor Italian gentleman, a stranger, and solitary, and disappointed! I do wonder at your people, godmamma—you people who pretend to do what’s in the Bible. You’re just as hard upon strangers and as ready to take up a prejudice as anybody else.”

“I never pretended not to be prejudiced,” said I; “it’s natural to a born Englishwoman. And as for your foreign counts, that come sneaking into people’s houses to marry their daughters and run off with the money——”

“Oh, if it is that you are thinking of, godmamma,” cried Sara with great dignity, sitting quite bolt upright in her chair, “you are totally mistaken, I assure you. I never spoke to the gentleman in my life; and besides,” she went on, getting very red and vehement, “I never will marry anybody, I have quite made up my mind; so, if you please, godmamma, whatever you choose to say about poor Mr. Luigi, whom you don’t know anything about, I hope you will be good enough not to draw me into any stupid story about marrying—I quite hate talk of that kind.”

I was so thunderstruck that I quite called out—“You impertinent little puss,” said I, “is that how you dare to talk to your godmother!” I declare I do not think I ever was put down so all my life before. I gave her a good sound lecture, as anybody will believe, about the proper respect she owed to her friends and seniors, telling her that I was very much afraid{34} she was in a bad way; and that, however her father, who spoiled her, might let her talk, she ought to know better than to set up her little saucy face like that in our house. I said a great deal to the little provoking creature. I am sure she never saw me so angry before, though she has been a perfect plague and tease all her days. But do you think she would give in, and say she was sorry? Not if it had been to save her life! She sat looking down on her book, opening and shutting it upon her hand, her little delicate nostril swelling, her red upper lip moving, her foot going pat-pat on the carpet, but never owning to be in the wrong or making the least apology. After I had done and taken up my paper again, pretending to be very busy with it, she got up and rummaged out the other volume of the novel, and came to me to say good-night, holding out her hand and stooping down her cheek, meaning me to kiss her, the saucy little puss! As she was in my house, and a guest, and her first night, I did kiss her, without looking at her. It was a regular quarrel; and so she too went off to her own room. So here I was all alone, very angry, and much disposed to launch out upon the servants or somebody. Contrairy indeed! I should think so! I wonder how that poor old Bob Cresswell can put up with his life. If she were mine I would send her off to school, for all so accomplished as they say she is.

Chapter X.

I HAD not a very good night after these troubles: somehow one’s sleep goes from one more easily when one grows old; and I kept dreaming all the night through of my sister and little Sara, and something they were concealing from me, mixing them both up together in my mind. I rose very uneasy and excited, not a bit refreshed, as one should feel in the morning. One thing very strange I have noticed all my life in dreams. Though never a single thing that one dreams{35} should ever come true, the feeling one has comes true somehow. I don’t know whether anybody will understand me. I have had friends in my young days, whom I thought a great deal upon, that did not prove true to me. And I have remarked, often long before I found them out, however fond or trustful in them I was through the day, I was always uneasy in my dreams, always finding out something wrong or meeting some unkindness—which makes me have a great confidence, not in what you would call dreams, you know, but in the sentiment of dreams, if you can understand what I mean. I woke up very unrefreshed, as I say; and got dressed and came downstairs as soon as it was daylight, though I knew well enough I should find nobody there. My sister always breakfasted in her own room, and Sara was late of coming down at the best of times; however, I got some letters about business, which were perhaps the best things I could have had. They put me off minding my quarrel with little Sara, or trying to find out what had kept Sarah so late on her drive.

I had nearly finished breakfast when little Sara came downstairs. She came up to me just as she had done the night before, holding out her hand and stooping down her cheek to be kissed, but not looking at me. I kissed her, the provoking puss, and poured out her coffee. And after ten minutes or so we got on chatting just as usual, which was a relief to me, for I don’t like apologies and explanations. I never could bear them. Little Sara, after she had got over feeling a little awkward and stiff, as people always do when they have been wrong, was just in her ordinary. She was used to affront people and to have them come to again, the little wicked creature—I am afraid she did not mind.

This little quarrel had put Sarah a good deal out of my mind, I must allow, but I got back to being anxious about her directly when I saw her come down-stairs. I can’t tell what the change upon her was—she did not look older or paler, or anything that you could put plainly in words—she was just as particularly dressed, and had her silver-white curls as nice, and her cap as pretty as usual, but she was not the same as she had been yesterday; certainly there was some change. Not to speak of that little nervous motion of her head and hands, which was greater to-day than ever I had seen it, there was a strange vigilance and watchfulness in her look which I don’t remember to have ever seen there before. She looked me very full in the face, I remember with a sort of daring defying openness, and the same to little Sara, though, of course what{36} could the child know? All over, down to her very hands, as she went on with her knitting, there was a kind of self-consciousness that had a very odd effect upon me. I could not tell what in the world to think of it. And as for supposing that some mere common little accident, or a fright, or anything outside of herself, had woke her up to that look, you need not tell me. I have not lived fifty years in this world for nothing. I knew better. Whatever it was that changed Sarah’s look, the causes of it were deep down and secret in herself.

It was this of course that made me anxious and almost alarmed, for I could not but think she must have something on her mind to make her look so. And when she beckoned to me that afternoon after dinner, as she did when she had anything particular to say, I confess my heart went thump against my breast, and I trembled all over. However, I went close up as usual, and drew my chair towards her that I might hear. Little Sara was close by. She could hear too if she pleased, but Sarah took no notice of the child.

“Have you heard anything from Cresswell about Richard Mortimer?” Sarah asked me quite sharply all at once.

“Why, no: he did not say anything yesterday when he was here. Did you have any conversation with him?”

I! Do I have any conversation with any one?” said Sarah, in her bitter way. “I want you to bestir yourself about this business, however. We must have an heir.”

“It is odd how little I have thought about it since that day—very odd,” said I; “and I was quite in earnest before. I wondered if Providence might, maybe, have taken it up now? I have seen such a thing: one falls off one’s anxiety somehow, one can’t tell how; and lo! the reason is, that the thing’s coming about all naturally without any help from you. We’ll be having the heir dropped down at the park gates some of these days, all as right and natural as ever was.”

I said this without thinking much about it; just because it was an idea of mine, that most times, when God lays a kind of lull upon our anxieties and struggles, it really turns out to be because He himself is taking them in hand; but having said this easy and calm, without anything particular in my mind, you may judge how I was startled half out of my wits by Sarah dashing down her knitting-pin out of her hand, stamping her foot on the footstool, and half screaming out in her sharp, strangled whisper, that sounded like the very voice of rage itself— {37} “The fool! the fool! oh, the fool! Shall I be obliged to leave my home and my seclusion and do it myself? I that might have been so different! Good God! shall I be obliged to do it—me! When I was a young girl I might have hoped to die a duchess,—everybody said so,—and now, instead of being cared for and shielded from the envious world,—people were always envious of me since ever I remember,—must I go trudging out to find this wretched cousin? Is this all the gratitude and natural feeling you have? Good heaven! to put such a thing upon me!”

She stopped, all panting and breathless, like a wild creature that had relieved itself somehow with a yell or a cry; but, strange, strange, at that moment Ellis opened the door. I will never think again she does not hear. The sound caught her in a moment. Her passion changed into that new watching look quicker than I can tell; and she sat with her eyes fixed upon me,—for, poor soul, to be sure she could not see through the screen behind her to find out what Ellis came for,—as if she could have killed me for the least motion. I got so excited myself that I could hardly see the name on the card Ellis brought in. Sarah’s looks, not to say her words, had put it so clearly in my mind that something was going to happen, that my self-possession almost forsook me. I let the card flutter down out of my hand when I lifted it off the tray, and did not hear a single syllable of what the man was saying till he had repeated it all twice over. It was only a neighbour who had sent over to ask for Miss Mortimer, having heard somehow that Sarah was poorly. She heard him herself, however, and gave an answer—her compliments, and she was quite well—before I knew what it was all about. If she had boxed me well she could not have muddled my head half so much as she had done now. When Ellis went away again, and left me alone close by her, I quite shook in my chair.

But she had got over her rage as it seemed. She stooped down to pick up her knitting-pin—with a little pettish exclamation that nobody helped her now-a-days—just in her usual way, and took up the dropt stitches in her knitting. But I could very well see that her hand trembled. As she did not say any more, I thought I might venture to draw back my chair. But when she saw the motion she started, looked up at me, and held up her hand. I was not to get so easily away.

“I had no idea you minded it so much. Well, well, Sarah,” cried I, in desperation, “I will write this moment to urge Mr. Cresswell on.”{38}

“And shout it all out, please, that the child may hear!” said Sarah, with a spiteful look as if she could bite me. I was actually afraid of her. I got up as fast as I could, and went off to the writing-table at the other end of the room. There was nothing I would not do to please her in a rational way; but, of all the vagaries she ever took up before, what did this dreadful passion mean?

Chapter XI.

THE next day I had something to do in the village, which was only about half a mile from the Park gates; but little Sara, when I asked her to go with me, had got some piece of business to her fancy in the greenhouse, and was not disposed to leave it, so I went off by myself. I went in, as I passed the lodge, to ask for little Mary Williams, who had a cough which I quite expected would turn to hooping-cough, though her mother would not believe it (I turned out to be right, of course). Mrs. Williams was rather in a way, poor body, that morning. Mary was worse and worse, with a flushed face and shocking cough, and nothing would please her mother but that it was inflammation, and the child would die. It is quite the strangest thing in the world, among those sort of people, how soon they make up their minds that their children are to die. I scolded her well, which did her good, and promised her the liniment we always have for hooping-cough, and said I should bring up a picture-book for the child (it’s a good little thing when it is well) from the new little shop in the village. This opened up, as I found out, quite a new phase of poor Williams’ trouble.

“I wouldn’t encourage it ma’am, no sure, I wouldn’t, not for a hundred picture-books. I wouldn’t go for to set up them as ’tices men out of their houses and lads fro’ home. No! I seen enough of that when poor old Williams was alive, and we was all in Liverpool. It’s all as one as the public-houses, ma’am. I can’t see no difference. Williams, it was his chapell; and the boy, it’s his night-school and his reading. I don’t see no good{39} of it. In the old man’s time, many’s the weary night I’ve sat by mysel’ mending their bits o’ things, and never a soul to cheer me up; and now, look’ee here, the boy’s tooken to it; and if I’m to lose Mary——”

“You ridiculous woman,” cried I, while the poor creature fell sobbing and took to her apron, “what’s to make you lose Mary? The child’s going in for hooping-cough, as sure ever child was, and I see no reason in the world why she shouldn’t get over it nicely, with the spring coming on as well. Don’t fret; trouble comes soon enough without going out of the way to meet it. What’s all this story you’ve been telling me about poor Willie, and the shop in the village, and the night-school? Don’t you know, you foolish woman, the night-school may be the making of the boy?”

“I don’t know nothink about it, ma’am, nor I don’t want to know,” said our liberal-minded retainer. “I know it takes the boy out o’ the house most nights in the week; and I sits a-thinking upon my troubles, and listening to all the sounds in the trees, sometimes moidered and sometimes scared. I’d clear away thankful any night, even washing night, when I’m folding for the mangle, to have him write his copy at home; and have a hearth-stone for him, though I say it as shouldn’t, as bright as a king’s. But he’s a deal grander nor the like o’ that, he is—he’ll stay and read the papers and talk. Bother their talk and their papers! I ask you, ma’am, wouldn’t Willie be a deal better at home?”

“I shouldn’t say but what I might perhaps think so too,” said I; “but then the gentlemen say not, and they should know best.”

“The gentlemen! and there’s another worry, sure,” said Mrs. Williams; “who would you think, ma’am, has been in the village, but a Frenchman, a-spying all about, and asking questions; and had the impudence to come to my very door, to the very park gates, to ask if I knowed a lady with a French name that was here or hereabout. I answered him short, and said I knew nothink about the French, and shut the door in his face, begging your pardon, ma’am; for, to be sure, he was after no good, coming asking for outlandish ladies here.”

“Very odd,” said I, “I hope it’s no robber, Williams. You were quite right to shut the door in his face.”

“And if I might make so bold,” said Williams, coming closer and speaking low, “Jacob, he maintains it was a French fellow with a mustache that scared Miss Sarah the day afore yesterday. Jacob seen him, but took no notice; and directly after{40} Miss Sarah up and pulled the string, and told him to drive round by Eden Castle, a good five-mile round, and to go quick. You may depend Miss Sarah took him for a robber, or somethink; and I’m dead sure it was the same man.”

I was very much startled by this, though I could scarcely tell why; but, of course, I would not let Williams suppose there was any mystery in it. “Very likely,” said I; “my sister goes out so little, she’s timid—but I am losing my time. Good-bye, little Mary, I’ll fetch you your picture-book; and be sure you rub her chest well with the liniment. I have always found it successful, and I’ve tried it for ten years.”

When I had fairly got out of the lodge, I went along without losing any more time, wonderfully puzzled in my own mind. Here was a riddle I could neither understand nor find any key to. After hearing little Sara’s tale, and all she had to say about the Italian, there was nothing so surprising in finding him out here, if it should happen to be him, seeing the park was only a few miles from Chester; only that Sara showed more interest in him than she had any call to do, and if he should happen to be coming after her, it was a thing that should be looked to. But why, in all the world, should Sarah be agitated by the sight of him? That was the extraordinary circumstance. As for supposing her to be alarmed at the idea of a robber, that, of course, was the merest folly, and I never entertained the idea for a moment. But if this were not the reason, what could the reason be? I was entirely lost in bewilderment and consternation. Could it be the mere passing face of a stranger which made her so deeply anxious as to the name of the visitor who called next day, and the entrance of Ellis with the card? How, in all the world, could a wandering Italian, seeking or pretending to seek for somebody no one had ever heard of, make any difference to Sarah? The more I turned it over the more I was mystified. I could not even guess at any meaning in it; but to drive five miles round out of her way, to be so excited all at once about the heir of the Mortimers, and to have got such a strange, watchful, vigilant look on her face, these changes could not come from nothing: but I had not the merest shadow of a clue to guide me in connecting little Sara’s Italian, if it was he, with my sister Sarah’s agitation and excitement. I stopped short at this, and could not go a step further; if there was any connection between the two—if there was nothing else to account for Sarah’s trouble which I did not know of—then the whole affair was the most extraordinary mystery I ever came across.{41}

I walked pretty smartly down to the village while I was occupied with these thoughts. A nice little village ours was, though I can’t really say whether you would have called it picturesque. A little bit of a thread of a stream ran along the lower edge of the common, and found its way somehow, all by itself, little thing as it was, down to the Dee. At that time of year the common was rather chilly to look at, the grass and the gorse bushes being a good bit blackened by frost, which had set in pretty sharply. I remember noticing, as I passed, that Dame Marsden, whose cottage is the first you come to on the left-hand side, just on the edge of the common, had her washing out, some of the things, after the line was full, being spread on the gorse, and that the shirts were lying there with their stiff white arms stuck out like pokers, as hard with the frost as if they had been made of wood. But after you pass the first few cottages, which just lie here and there, you come to a snug bit of street, with the Rectory garden and a peep of the house on one side, and the doctor’s house staring straight at it across the road; and the other better houses of the village thrusting forward on both sides, as if to take care of the aristocracy, and keep them cosy. Just before you come to the doctor’s was the new shop I had spoken of at the lodge. It was got up by the doctor, and was going to be a failure. It had all kinds of cheap books and papers, and of all things in the world, a reading room! And the shopkeeper, who was rather a smart young fellow, taught a night school after the shop was over. I dare to say it wasn’t a bad place; but, of course, in a bit of a rural village like ours, it was easy to see it would never succeed.

Into this shop, however, I went to get little Mary Williams her picture-book; and I can’t but say I was very much struck and surprised to see a stranger standing there whom I had never seen before, and to hear roars of laughter coming out of the shop and drawing the children about the door. The stranger was one of the fattest men I ever saw: not that he was dreadfully big or unwieldy,—on the contrary, he was spinning about on his toes in a way that would have been a trial to the lightest Englishman. His fatness was so beautifully distributed that it was amazing to see. His arms in the coat-sleeves which fitted them like the covers of a cushion, his short plump fingers, all were in perfect keeping. As for his face, that was nearly lost in beard. When I entered the shop he had seized his beard with one of his fat hands, in the warmth of his monologue; for he was talking, I have no{42} doubt, in a very animated and lively manner, if any one could have understood a word of what he said. Now, I confess I felt a good deal of sympathy with the poor fellow; for I remember quite well the only time I ever was abroad feeling an odd sort of conviction that if I only spoke very clear, plain, distinct English, and spoke loud enough, people, after a while, must come to understand me. When he saw me he made a spin clean out of my way, took off the queer hat he had on, made me a bow, and stopped talking till I had done my business; which was the most civil thing I had seen in a stranger for many a day. And the face was such a jolly, honest sort of face that, in spite of my prejudice against foreigners, I felt quite disarmed all at once.

“Who is he? What is he saying?” said I to the shop-people.

“Goodness knows!” cried old Mrs. Taylor, the shopkeeper’s mother. “I know no more on’t nor if it was a dog. Lord, Miss Milly! to think of poor creatures brought up from their cradles to talk sich stuff as that!”

“I was brought up at a grammar-school, ma’am,” said young Taylor himself, with a blush; “where it isn’t modern languages, you know, ma’am, that’s the great thing; and, though I know the grammar, I’m not very well up in my French.”

Here his little sister, who had kept nudging him all this time, suddenly whispered, with her face growing crimson, “Oh, Alfred! ask Miss Milly!—to be sure she knows.”

And, to tell the truth, though I knew I could never keep up a conversation, I had been privately conning over in my own mind a little scrap of French, though whether he was French or not I knew no more than Jenny Taylor. So I faced round boldly enough, not being afraid of any criticism, and fired off my interrogation at the good-humoured fat fellow. He looked so blank after I had spoken that it was quite apparent he did not understand a word of it. He made a profusion of bows. He entered into a long and animated explanation, which sent Jenny Taylor into fits of laughter, and filled her mother with commiseration. But I caught two words, and these confounded me. The first was “Italiano,” over and over repeated; the second which he pronounced, pointing out to the street with many lively gestures, was “padrone.” I comprehended the matter all at once, and it made my heart beat. This was the servant whom little Sara had described, and the master, the “padrone,” was in the village pursuing his{43} extraordinary inquiries, whatever they were, here. For the moment I could not help being agitated; I felt, I cannot explain why, as if I were on the eve of finding out something. I asked him eagerly, in English, where his master was; and again received a voluble and smiling answer, I have no doubt in very good Italian. Then we shook our heads mutually and laughed, neither quite convinced that the other could not understand if he or she would. But the end was that I got my picture-book and left the shop without ascertaining anything about the padrone. Perhaps it was just as well. Why should I go and thrust myself into mysteries and troubles which did not make any call upon me?

Chapter XII.

I HAD a good many little errands in the village, and stayed there for some time. It was dusk when I turned to go home. Very nice the village looks at dusk, I assure you—the rectory windows beginning to shine through the trees, and the doctor’s dining-room answering opposite as if by a kind of reflection; but no lamps or candles lighted yet in the other village houses, only the warm glow of the fire shining through the little muslin blind on the geraniums in the window; and, perhaps, the mother standing at the door to look out for the boys at play, or to see if it is time for father’s coming home. Dame Marsden’s shirts were still lying stiff and stark like ghosts upon the gorse bushes; and some of the early labourers began to come tramping heavily down the road with their long, slow, heavy steps. I had just stopped to ask James Hobson for his old father, when my share of the adventure came. I call it the adventure, because I suppose, somehow, we were all in it—Sarah, little Sara Cresswell, and me.

Just when that good Jem had gone on—such a fellow he is, too! keeps his old father like a prince!—another sort of a figure appeared before the light; and, bless me, to think I{44} should have forgotten that circumstance!—of course it was the same figure that started so suddenly past me that evening when I stood looking for Sarah at the gate. He took off his hat to me, in the half light, and stopped. I stopped also, I cannot tell why. So far as I could see, a handsome young man, not so dark as one expects to see an Italian, and none of that sort of French showman look—you know what I mean—that these sort of people generally have: on the contrary, a look very much as if he were a gentleman; only, if I may say it, more innocent, more like a child in his ways than the young men are now-a-days. I did not see all this just in a moment, you may be sure. Indeed, I rather felt annoyed and displeased when the stranger stopped me on the road—my own road, that seemed to belong to me as much as the staircase or corridor at home. If he had not been possessed of a kind of ingratiating, conciliatory sort of manner, as these foreigners mostly have, I should scarcely have given him a civil answer, I do believe.

“Pardon, Madame”—not Madam, you perceive, which is the stiffest, ugliest word that can be used in English—and I can’t make out how, by putting an e to the end of it, and laying the emphasis on the last syllable, it can be made so deferential and full of respect as the French word sounds to English ears—“pardon, Madame; I was taking the liberty to make inquiries in your village, and when I am so fortunate as to make an encounter with yourself, I think it a very happy accident. Will Madame permit me to ask her a question; only one,—it is very important to me?”

“Sir,” said I, being a little struck with his language, and still more with his voice, which seemed to recall to me some other voice I had once known, “you speak very good English.”

His hat was off again, of course, in a moment to acknowledge the compliment; but dark as it was, I could neither overlook nor could I in the least understand, the singular, half pathetic, melancholy look he gave me as he answered. “I had an English mother,” said the young foreigner; and he looked at me in the darkness, and in my complete ignorance of him, as if somehow I, plain Millicent Mortimer, a single woman over fifty, and living among my own people, either knew something about his mother, or had done her an injury, or was hiding her up somewhere, or I don’t know what. I could not tell anybody how utterly confounded and thunderstruck I was. I had nearly screamed out: “I? What do I know about your mother?”{45} so much impression did it have on me. After all it is wonderful how these foreigners do talk in this underhand sort of way with their eyes. I declare I do not so much wonder at the influence they often get over young creatures. That sort of thing is wonderfully impressive to the imagination.

He paused quite in a natural, artful sort of way, to let the look have its full effect; and he must have seen I was startled too; for though I was old enough to have been his mother, I was, of course, but a plain Englishwoman, and had no power over my face.

“Madame,” said the stranger with a little more vehemence, and a motion of his arm which looked as if he might fall into regular gesticulating, just what disgusts one most, “to find the Countess Sermoneta is the object of my life!”

“I am very sorry I can’t help you,” said I, quite restored to myself by this, which I was, so to speak, prepared for; “I never heard of such a person; there’s no one of that name in this quarter, nor hasn’t been, I am sure, these thirty years.”

Seeing I was disposed to push past, my new acquaintance stood aside, and took off again that everlasting hat.

“I will not detain Madame,” he said in a voice that, I confess, rather went to my heart a little, as if I had been cruel to him; “but Madame will not judge hardly of my case. I came to find one whom I thought I had but to name; and I find her not, nor her name, nor any sign that she was ever here. Yet I must find her, living or dead; I made it a promise to my father on his death-bed. Madame will not wonder if I search, ask, look everywhere; I cannot do otherwise. Pardon that I say so much; I will detain Madame no more.”

And so he stood aside with another salute. Still he took off his hat like a gentleman—no sort of flourish—a little more distinctly raised from his head, perhaps, than people do now-a-days; but nothing in bad taste; and just in proportion to his declaration that he would not detain me, I grew, if I must confess it, more and more willing to be detained. I did not go on when he stood out of my way, but rather fell a little back, and turned more towards him than I had yet done. Dame Marsden had just lighted her lamp, and it cast a sort of glimmery, uncertain light upon the face of my new acquaintance; undeniably a handsome young man. I like good-looking people wherever I find them; and that was not all. Somehow, through his beard—which I daresay people who like such appendages would have thought quite handsome—there seemed to me to look, by glimpses, some face I had known long ago; and his voice,{46} foreign as it was, had a tone, just an occasional indescribable note, which reminded me of some other voice, I could not tell whom belonging to. It was very strange; and one forgets stories that one has no personal interest in. Did I ever hear of any country person that had married an Italian? for somehow I had jumped to the conclusion that it was his mother he sought.

“It is very odd,” said I, “I can fancy I have heard a voice like yours somewhere long ago. I seem to feel as if I knew you. I don’t remember ever hearing the name you want; but I’ll consult my sister and an old servant we have, and try to find out,—Sermoneta! I certainly do not recollect ever hearing the name. But it is very sad you should be so disappointed. If you will come to the Park some day next week and ask for Miss Millicent, I will do my best to find out for you if anybody knows the name.”

He made a great many exclamations of thanks, which, to be sure, I could have dispensed with, and paused a little again in a hesitating way when I wanted to go on. At last he began quite in a new tone; and this was the oddest part of all.

“If Madame should find, on inquiring, that the bearer of this name did not will to bear it; if there might be reasons to conceal that name;—if the lady, who is the Contessa, would but see me, would but let me know——”

“Sir,” said I, interrupting the young fellow all at once, “is it an English lady you are speaking of? English ladies do not conceal their names. Reason or not, we own to the name that belongs to us in this country. No, no, I know nothing about such a possibility. I don’t believe in it either. If I can hear of a Countess Sermoneta, I’ll let you know; but as for anybody denying their own name, you must not think such things happen here. Good night. You’re not accustomed to England, I can see. You must not think me impatient; but that’s not how we do things in our country. Come to the Park, all the same; and I shall do what I can to find out whether anybody remembers what you want to know.”

This time he did not make any answer, only drew back a step, and so got quite out of the light of Dame Marsden’s window. He seemed to be silenced by what I had said, and I went on quite briskly, a little stimulated, I confess, by that little encounter, and the exertion of breaking my spear for English honour. Denying one’s name, indeed! Of course we have our faults like other people; but who ever heard of an English person (not speaking of thieves, or such creatures,{47} of course), denying his name! The thing was quite preposterous. It quite warmed me up as I hastened back to the Park, though I was rather later than usual, and the night had fallen dark all at once; and, to be sure, this kept me from all those uncomfortable ideas—that perhaps, it might be a deception after all; and what if it were a contrivance to be admitted to the Park? and it might, even, for anything I know, be all a fortune-hunter’s device to get introduced to Sara Cresswell—which disturbed my mind sadly, though I felt much ashamed of them after I had time for reflection at home.{48}



Chapter I.

I WILL tell you exactly how it all happened.

I have been an orphan all my life; at least, if that is a little Irish, I mean that I never knew, or saw, that I know of, either my father or my mother. Sad enough in the best of cases, and mine was not the best case you could think of. I don’t know who paid for me when I was a child. Some of mamma’s relations, I suppose, among them; and of all people in the world to trust a poor little orphan child to, think of fixing upon a soldier’s wife, following the regiment! That is how I have always been half a soldier myself; and one reason, perhaps, if any reason was necessary but his dear, good, tender-hearted self, why I was so ready, when Harry asked me, to do the most foolish thing in the world.

Though I say they made a strange choice in leaving me with dear Nurse Richards, I don’t mean that it was not, so far as the woman was concerned, the very best choice that possibly could have been made. Richards himself was a sergeant, and she was quite a superior woman; but much more to the purpose than that, she had been my very own nurse, having taken me when poor mamma died. She had lost her baby, and I had lost my mother; and it was for real love, and not for hire, that Nurse Richards took the charge of me. She used to work hard, and deny herself many things, I{49} know, to keep the little house, or the snug lodgings we always had, as far off from the barracks as Richards would allow them to be. I know she could not possibly have had enough money for me to make up for what she spent on my account; but I don’t think it was hard to her, working and sparing for the poor orphan little girl. I know such things by my own experience now. It was sweet to her to labour, and contrive, and do a hundred things I knew nothing about, for “the child’s” sake. I would do it all over again, and thankful, for her sake. Ah, that I would! Pain and trouble are sweet for those one loves.

She did her duty by me too, if ever woman did. She never would let me forget that I was a lady, as she said. She used to lecture me by the hour about many a thing being fit enough for the other children which was not becoming for me, till I came to believe her as children do, and gave myself little airs as was natural. I got no education, to be sure, but reading and writing, and needlework, and how to do most things about a house. So far as I have gone into life yet it has been a very good education to me. I don’t doubt much more serviceable than if I had been at boarding-school, as poor Aunt Connor used to lament, and wish I had; but it was a sad wandering life for all that. We were in Edinburgh the first that I can recollect. I remember as clear as possible, as if it were in a dream, the great Castle Rock standing high up out of the town, and whatever was ado in the skies, sunshine, or moonlight, or clouds, or a thunder-storm, or whatever was going on, always taking that for its centre, as I imagined. I could fancy still, if I shut my eyes, that I saw the grey building up high in the blue air, with the lights twinkling in the windows half way up to the stars; and heard the trumpet pealing out with a kind of wistful sound, bringing images to me, a soldier’s child, of men straying about, lost among the darkling fields, or bewildered in the streets, when the recall sounded far up over their heads in that calm inaccessible height. I see that very Castle Rock now again, not in imagination, but with my real eyes. It is just the same as ever, though I am so very different. It is my first love, and I am loyal to it. Not being of any country, for I am some Irish, and some Welsh, and some Scotch, and Harry is a pure thorough-bred Englishman, I can quite afford to be in love with Edinburgh Castle. The regiment went to Swansea after it left Edinburgh, and then to Belfast, and we were in dreadful terror of being sent to Canada, where Nurse Richards declared{50} she never would take “the child.” However, it never came to trying. At Belfast, dear tender soul, she died. Ah me! ah me! I could not think how the kind Lord could leave me behind, so wretched as I was; but He knew better than I did. I was only fifteen; I humbly hope, now I’m twenty, I have a great deal more yet to do in the world. But I thought of nothing then except only what a comfort it would be to slip into the coffin beside her and be laid down quietly in her grave.

I did not know a single relation I had, if, indeed, I had any; Aunt Connor, I know, used to send the money for me; but Nurse Richards had often told me she was not my real aunt; only my uncle’s wife, and he was dead. So, though she supported me, she had no right to love me; and she couldn’t love me, and did not, that is certain; for I was fifteen, and had never seen her, nor a single relation in the world. However, when she heard of Nurse Richards’ death, Aunt Connor sent her maid for me. It is very fortunate, Bridget said, we were in Belfast, and no great distance off, for if it had been in England, over the seas, there was no telling what might have happened. I was very unwilling to go with Bridget. I struggled very much, and spoke to Richards about it. I said I would much rather go into service, where at least I could be near her grave; but it was of no use speaking. I was obliged to obey.

Aunt Connor lived in Dublin; and when I got to her house and saw the footman, and the page in his livery, and all the grandeur about the house, I thought really that Aunt Connor must be a very great lady. Harry says the house was shabby-fine, and everything vulgar about it; but I cannot say I saw that. Perhaps I am not so good a judge as Harry, never having seen anything of the kind before. I do believe that she really was very kind to me in her way; I must say so, whatever Harry thinks. Harry says she behaved atrociously, and was jealous of me because I was prettier than her own girls (which is all Harry’s nonsense), and a great deal more like that—all in the Cinderella style, you know, where the two young ladies are spiteful and ugly, and the little girl in the kitchen is quite an angel. I love Cinderella; but all the same, Harry’s story is not true. I underscore the words to convince him if he should ever see this. Alicia and Patricia were very handsome girls,—as different from me as possible—and good girls too, and always had a kind word for their poor little cousin. They did not take me to all their gaieties, to be sure. I am sure I did not wish it.{51} I was much happier in the nursery. After I had seen Harry a few times, perhaps I did grudge going down so seldom to the drawing-room; and used to keep wondering in my heart which of them he was fond of, and had many a cry over it. But now that it is all past, and I see more clearly, I know they were very kind indeed, considering. They were never, all the time I was there, unfeeling to me; they liked me, and I liked them: nothing in the world of your Cinderella story. If I had a nice house, and was rich enough to have a visitor, there is nothing I should like better than to have Patricia (her sister is married) come to see me. It would be pleasant to see her bright Irish face. No, honestly, I cannot complain of Aunt Connor. I am very sorry I deceived her for an hour—she was never unkind to me.

Chapter II.

I DID not think I could have said half a dozen words about myself without telling all the story of my marriage. But what I have said was necessary to keep you from blaming me so much. For, after all, I was a young, friendless, desolate creature, longing very much to have somebody belonging to me, somebody of my very own, and with no very clear natural duty to Aunt Connor, though she had paid for bringing me up. I say again she was kind to me, and so were the girls; but principally because it was not in their nature to be unkind to anybody, and not because they had a particular affection for me. And that is what one wants, whatever people may choose to say. One might die of longing for love though one was surrounded with kindness. Ah, yes, I am sure of it: even a little unkindness from people we belong to, and who belong to us, one can bear it. To have nobody belonging to you is the saddest thing in the world.

I never was melancholy or pensive, or anything like that. After a while, when I could think of Nurse Richards without{52} breaking my heart, I got just as cheerful as other girls of my age, and enjoyed whatever little bit of pleasure came to me. But after I began to know Harry—after it began to dawn upon my mind that there might be somebody in the world who would take an interest in all my little concerns, for no better reason than that they belonged to me, not for kindness or compassion, I felt as if I were coming to life all at once. I have had some doubts since whether it was what people call love; perhaps I would have been shyer had it been so, and I don’t think I ever was shy to speak of. I was so glad, so thankful, to the bottom of my heart, to think of having somebody belonging to me. If we could have done something to make ourselves real brother and sister, I believe I should have been just as glad. However, of course that was impossible. All the officers used to come to Aunt Connor’s; she was always good-tempered and pleasant, and glad to see them, though I am sure she would not have allowed her girls to marry any of those poor lieutenants. However, I happened to be in the drawing-room a good many times when Harry came first. Nobody noticed that we two were always getting together for a time; but when my aunt did observe it, she was angry, and said I was flirting, and I was not to come downstairs any more in the evening. I thought I didn’t mind; I never had minded before. But I did feel this. I made quite sure Harry was falling in love with one of my cousins, and used to wonder which it would be, and cry. Crying by one’s self does not improve one’s looks; and when I met Harry the first day, by real accident, he looked so anxious and concerned about me, that it quite went to my heart. My aunt used to send me on her particular errands at that time,—to order things for the dinner-parties, and to match ribbons, and to take gloves to be cleaned; things the servants could not do properly. She used to say if I kept my veil down, and walked very steadily, nobody would ever molest me; and nobody ever did. Only Harry got to know the times I generally went out, and always happened to meet me somewhere. Oh yes, it was very wrong; very, very wrong; if I had ever had a mother I could not have forgiven myself. But it was such a comfort to see his face brighten up as he caught sight of me. No one could tell how cheering it was except one as friendless as me. So, as you may suppose, it went on from less to more, and at last (after we had been asked in church, and I don’t know all what) Harry and I called in at a far-off little church one morning, and were married. I had not thought very much about it till it was over; but the moment it was fairly over I fell into the greatest panic{53} I ever was in, in all my life. What if Aunt Connor should find us out? If she did find us out, what would be done to us? what would happen to Harry? I almost think he must have carried me out of church, my head quite spun round upon my shoulders. I fell into such a tremble that my limbs would not support me. When we were out of the church,—it was a summer morning, beautiful and sweet, and the air so pleasant that it made one happy to breathe it,—we two foolish young creatures looked with a kind of awe into each other’s faces. Harry was pale as well as me. I do believe he was in a panic too. “Oh, Harry, what have we done?” cried I with a little gasp. He burst out into a great trembling laugh. “What we can never undo, Milly darling; nor anybody else for us,” said he; “and God be praised!” I could not say another word. We neither of us could speak any more; we went silently along through the air, so sweet and sunny, trembling and holding each other close, to my aunt’s door, where we were to part. I think we must have gone gliding along like fairies, on the wings that grow to people’s shoulders at those wonderful moments; surely we did not walk over the common pavement like ordinary people. But the common door, the white steps, the blank front of Aunt Connor’s house, disenchanted us. I could not stop to say good-bye, but only gave him a frightened look, and ran in, for the door was fortunately open. Oh, how cold and trembling I felt when I shut my room door, and was safe in, and knew it was all over! I took off my white frock, all in awe and terror of myself. But when I had put on my morning dress, and looked at myself in the glass, it was not Milly Mortimer! I knew it was not Milly Mortimer. I fastened my ring so that I could wear it round my neck under my high dress, without anybody knowing; but already it had made a mark round my finger. I was married! Oh dear, dear, and to think I could not tell anybody! I never had a secret all my life before. I went down on my knees in the corner, and asked God to forgive me, and to take care of us two poor children that did not know what we were doing. Then I had to get up and open my door, and go out in the every-day house. I can’t tell how I did it. Of all the wonders in my life, there is none like that. I can fancy how I was led on to consent to be married; but how did I ever go downstairs and do my sewing, and eat my dinner, and look Aunt Connor in the face? I suppose I must have done it somehow without making them suspect anything; and I don’t wonder my aunt called me a little hypocrite. What a hypocrite I must have been!{54}

I did not see Harry next day, and felt very miserable; cold, as if a sudden frost had come on in the middle of summer. But the next morning after, looking out of my window very early, who should I see looking up at the house but himself! That moment I got back into the sun. We belonged to each other; everything, even to the dress I had on, Harry was pleased to know about. Ah, what a difference! I cannot say anything else, though it may be very improper. After that moment I never was ashamed again of what I had done, nor frightened, nor sorry. If it was wrong, it’s a pity, and I don’t defend myself; but from that time I thought only that I had somebody belonging to me; that I dared not get ill, or mope, or die, or do any foolish thing; that I had Harry to think of, and do for, and take care of. Ah, that was different from doing Aunt Connor’s messages. It was not being married, it was being born—it was coming to life.

Chapter III.

YOU are not to suppose, however, that we did not pay for our foolishness. If I had been a well-brought up girl living at home, I should have been perfectly wretched in that strange, feverish, secret life in which everything felt like guilt; and, as it was, the excitement and feeling of secrecy wore me out day by day. Poor Harry, too, got quite harassed and wretched looking. This that we had done certainly did not make us happy. Harry still came to the house for the chance of seeing me; and imagine what I felt to know that he was in the drawing-room, and I, his wife, sitting upstairs, after the little children had gone to bed, sewing in the quiet nursery! I don’t know how I ever endured it; and to hear Alicia and Patricia next morning saying to each other what a bear that young Langham had grown! Once or twice, when I was allowed to be downstairs, it was worse and worse. If one of the other gentlemen so much as looked at me, Harry flushed up{55} and looked furious. Twenty times in a night I thought he would have interfered and made a scene; but all the time we dared scarcely speak to each other; and I am sure Aunt Connor never thought we were flirting then. When I went out, as before, on my aunt’s errands, with my veil down, Harry, instead of being pleased to meet me, as he used to be, was so cross and unhappy that it was quite dreadful to be with him. And he would come about the house looking up at the windows at all kinds of improper times, quite in an open way, as if he were defying Aunt Connor. I was quite in a fever night and day; I never knew what might happen any minute. He could not bear so much as to think of other people ordering me about, and making me do things I did not want to do. I am sure it is very good of Harry to be so kind and fond of me as he is; for I feel certain that, for the first three months, our marriage made him miserable, injured his health, and his temper, and his appetite, and everything. You may say, why did we keep it secret? The reason was this, that he was to come in to a little money, which his uncle, who was his only relation, had promised him on his birthday, and which he ought to have got before now; and poor Harry thought every day it might come, and was always waiting. But unless it was that promised present, he had nothing in the world but his lieutenant’s pay.

However, of course, this state of things could not go on. One day I had gone out to take some gloves to be cleaned, and Harry, of course, had met me. We were going along very quiet, not saying much to each other, for he had been in one of his troublesome humours, having got a letter from his uncle without a word in it about the money, and I had been begging him to have patience a little, when all at once my heart gave a jump, and I knew the crisis had come. There, straight before us, crossing the road, was Aunt Connor, with her great eyes fixed upon Harry and me!

I gave a little cry and looked round. If there had been any cross street or opening near I should have run away, and never looked either of them in the face again; but there was not a single opening in all the houses. I clasped my hands together tight, and stood still, with something throbbing so in my head that I thought it would burst. I did not see Harry nor anything, only Aunt Connor coming up to me whom I had deceived.

She grasped hold of me by the arm as soon as ever she came up. “Oh, you shameless, ungrateful creature! Is this what you have come to after all my care of you? This is how you{56} take your walks, is it, Miss Mortimer? Oh, good heavens! was ever simple woman so taken in and imposed upon? Oh, you wicked, foolish, thoughtless thing! do you know you’re going to ruin? do you know you’re seeking your own destruction? do you know?—Lord save us, I don’t know what words to say to you! Haven’t you heard what comes to young girls that behave so? Oh, you young scapegrace! how dare you bring such a disgrace on my house!”

“Hold your tongue, you old witch,” said Harry, who was perfectly wild with rage, as I could hear by the sound of his voice, for I dared not turn my head to look at him. But there he was, grasping hold of my hand and holding me up. “Take your hand off my wife’s arm, Mrs. Connor. What! you dare venture to speak about disgrace and destruction after sending her out defenceless day after day. She has had somebody to defend her, though you took no trouble about it. Yes, Milly darling, I am thankful it has come at last. Madam, take away your hand; she is my wife.”

Aunt Connor fell back from me perfectly speechless, holding up her two hands. We two stood opposite, Harry holding my hand drawn through his arm. I thought I should have sunk into the ground; and yet I felt so happy and proud I could have cried with joy. Yes, it was quite true; I was not all by myself to fight my own battles. We two belonged to each other, and all the world could not make it otherwise. I could not say a word, and I did not mind. I could leave it all to Harry. Henceforward he would stand up for me before all the world.

I really cannot tell, after that, what Aunt Connor said. I remember that Harry wanted to take me away at once to his lodgings, and said he would not allow me to go home with her; and she took hold of my arm again, and declared she would not let me go till she had proof he was telling the truth about our marriage. The end of it all was that we both went home with her. She was dreadfully angry,—speechless with rage and dismay; but after just the first she managed to keep proper and decorous in what she said, being in the street, and not wishing to make a scene or gather a crowd. She took us into the library and had it out there. Oh, what names she called me!—not only deceitful and ungrateful, but, what was far worse, light and easily won; and warned Harry against me, that I’d deceive him as well. When she said that it roused me; and I don’t know what I should have said if Harry had not drawn me aside quite quietly and whispered, “Leave it all to me.” I did; I never said a word{57} for myself. I put my cause into his hands. To be answered for, and have my defence undertaken so, did a great deal more than make up to me for anything that could be said. It was all very agitating and dreadful, however; and I could not help thinking that most likely Harry’s uncle, when he heard what a foolish marriage his nephew had made, would not send that money, and Harry would have me to provide for, and so little, so very little to do it with; and most likely all his brother officers making fun of him to each other for being so foolish. Ah! now I felt how foolish we had been.

“Milly must come home with me,” said Harry. “If I could scarcely endure her remaining here while it was all a secret, you may suppose how impossible it is that I can endure it now. I thank you very much, Mrs. Connor, for finding us out; and don’t think,” he said, changing his look in a moment, “that I forget or will forget what actual kindness you may have shown to my wife. But she is my wife: she must not do other people’s business, or live in any house but her own. Mrs. Connor will let you put your things together, Milly darling, for I cannot leave you behind again.”

“Well, young people,” said Aunt Connor, “I have seen a great deal, and come through a great deal in my life, but such boldness and unconcern I never did see before. Why, you don’t even look ashamed of yourselves!—not Miss here, that is going to be at the head of her own establishment, in the parlour over Mrs. Grogram’s shop, with boots lying about in all the corners, and a cigar-box on the mantelshelf. However, Mr. Langham, I am not such an old witch as you think for. I won’t let my poor Connor’s niece go off like this, all of a sudden, with a young man that has never made the least preparation for her. I am not throwing any doubt upon your marriage, nor meaning any scandal upon the lieutenant, Miss Milly,—you need not flush up; but what do you suppose his landlady would say if he came in with a young lady by his side, and said he had brought home his wife? Do you think she’d believe in you, or give you proper respect, you unfortunate young creature? No, no; I’ll do my duty by you, whether you will or no. Let Mr. Langham go home and make things a little ready for a lady. She’s a lady by both sides of the house, I can tell you, Mr. Langham; and I’ve heard her poor papa say might come in for a great estate, if she lived. Any how, she’s poor Connor’s niece, and she shan’t go out of my house in an unbecoming manner. Go home and set your place in order for a bride; and since it must be so,{58} come back for Milly; but out of this door she’s not going to-night. Now be easy,—be easy. I have had to do with her for eighteen years, and you have had to do with her for a month or two. It’s not respectable, I tell you, you two young fools. What! do you think I’ll make away with her, if you leave her here while you make things decent at home?”

Neither Harry nor I could resist kindness; and Aunt Connor was kind, as nobody could deny; but he blushed, poor fellow, and looked uncomfortable, and looked at me to help him out this time. “Harry has no money, no more than I have,” said I; “it’s his wife that must make things tidy at home.”

A kind of strange spasm went over Aunt Connor’s face, as if she had something to say and couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She pursed up her lips all at once, and went away hastily to the other end of the room to pick up something,—something that had nothing at all to do with us or our business. “Well, well, do as you like,” she said, in a curious choked voice. When she turned away from us, Harry drew me close to him to consult what we should do. It was quite true about the boots, he said, with a blush and a laugh; should I mind? Certainly I didn’t mind; but I thought, on the whole, it was best not to vex Aunt Connor any more, but to take her advice,—he to leave me here to-night, and fetch me home to-morrow. Fetch me home! I that had never known such a thing in all my life.

We parted for another day with that agreement; and, strange as people may think it, I was quite a heroine in Aunt Connor’s house that night. The girls both came up to my room and made me tell them all about it, and laughed and kissed me, and teased me, and cried over me, and did all sorts of kind foolish things. They found out my ring tied round my neck, and made me put it on; and they kept constantly running back and forward from their own room to mine with little presents for me. Not much, to be sure; but I was only a girl, though I was married, and liked them. There was somebody to dinner, so I did not go downstairs, but when the strangers were gone, there was a little supper in my honour, and Aunt Connor made some negus with her own hand, and ordered them all to drink dear Milly’s health the last night she would be at home. I could have really thought they loved me that last night. They did not, however; only, though it might not be very steady or constant, they were kind, kind at the heart; and when one was just at the turn of one’s life,{59} and all one’s heart moved and excited, they could no more have refused their sympathy than they could have denied their nature; and being very much shocked and angry at first did not make the least difference to this. The girls were twenty times fonder of me that night than if I had been married ever so properly,—dear, kind, foolish Irish hearts!

But all the while there was a strange uneasy look in Aunt Connor’s face. I divined somehow, I cannot tell by what means, that there was something she ought to tell me which she either was afraid or unwilling to let me know, or had some object in keeping from me. She must be an innocent woman, surely, or I never could have read that so clear in her face.

Chapter IV.

THE next morning Harry came radiant, quite like a new man. Was it all for joy of taking me home? or, perhaps he had got the money on this most convenient of all mornings? but such things don’t often happen just at the most suitable time. He came rushing in with a kind of shout,—“Milly, we’ve orders to march; we’re going next week. Hurrah!” cried Harry.

“And why hurrah?” said I.

“We’ll have ourselves to ourselves, and nobody in our way,” he said; but just then seeing Aunt Connor, who was at the other end of the room, stopped short and looked a little confused. He had not intended to say anything ill-natured to her.

“Oh, I am not affronted; you’re excusable, you’re quite excusable,” said Aunt Connor; “and I believe it is very lucky; you’ll have a fresh start, and nobody will know how foolish you have been. I was too angry to ask yesterday, or to think of anything but that deluded child there, that thinks herself so happy;—but young Langham, dear, have ye any friends?”{60}

“None to whom I am answerable,” said Harry.

“Then that means no father nor mother, no parents and guardians?” said my aunt. “Well, what you’ve done is done, and can’t be undone; we must make the best of it. Have you put the boots into the corner, and tidied the cigars off the mantelshelf? and now Mrs. Grogram knows all about it,—when it happened, where it happened, and how you two took clever Mrs. Connor in?”

“Exactly,” said Harry, laughing; “you have quite described it all. I have done my best, Milly darling; come home.”

“You’re glad, you two young fools?” said my aunt.

“I should think so! and shouldn’t we be glad?” cried Harry. “If we have not a penny between us, we have what is much better. Milly, come.”

“Hush with your Milly, Milly,” said Aunt Connor, “and speak for yourself, young man. My poor Connor’s niece, if she is undutiful, shall never be said to be penniless. Well, I’ve won the battle. I will tell you, for I ought. As sure as she’s standing there in her white frock, she has five hundred pounds.”

“Five hundred pounds!” both Harry and I repeated the words with a little cry of wonder and delight.

She had said this with a flash of resolution, as if it were quite hard to get it out; now she fell suddenly into a strange sort of coaxing, persuading tone, which was sadly painful to me just as I was getting to like her better; and as she coaxed and grew affectionate she grew vulgar too. How strange! I had rather have given her the money than seen her humble herself so.

“But it’s out at the best of interest, my dears; what you couldn’t get for it elsewhere. Think of five-and-twenty pounds a-year; an income, Milly! My child, I’ll undertake to pay you the half year’s interest out of my own pocket to help you with your housekeeping; for, of course, you would never think of lifting the money, you nor young Langham, with such an income coming of it. No, no; let well alone, I say. I would not meddle with a penny of it if I were you. Rash young creatures that don’t know the value of money, you’d just throw it away; but think what a comfort there is in five-and-twenty pounds a-year!”

Harry and I looked at each other; it was as clear as day that she had it herself, and did not want to give it up. He was angry; I was only vexed and distressed. I never in all my life had thought of money before.

“Five hundred pounds would be very useful to Milly just{61} now, Mrs. Connor,” said Harry; “she has not a trousseau, as your daughters would have; and I can only give her all I have, which is little enough. At least it’s my duty to ascertain all about it; where it is, and what it is, and——”

“Oh, what it is! half of it Uncle Connor’s own gift to the ungrateful creature—half of it at the very least; and ascertain, to be sure!—ascertain, and welcome!—call it in if ye please, and spend it all in three weeks, and don’t come to me for help or credit. What do you mean, sir? Do ye think it’s anything to me?”

“Oh, Aunt Connor, please don’t be angry. I never had but half-a-sovereign all my life,” cried I. “You’ll tell us all about it afterwards, to be sure. Harry—I mean Mr. Langham—doesn’t understand. But it would be so handy to have some of it. Aunt Connor, don’t you think so? Only please don’t be angry. I should like, all out of my own head, to spend ten pounds.”

Aunt Connor did not speak, but went to her desk and took something out of it that was already prepared—one envelope she gave to Harry and the other to me.

“Here is the half year’s dividend of your wife’s little money; it’s just come due,” said Aunt Connor, “and here, Milly, dear, is your aunt’s wedding-present to you. Now you can have your will, you see, without breaking in upon your tiny bit of fortune. See what it is to have thoughtful friends.”

For in my envelope there was exactly the sum I wished for—ten pounds.

And what do you suppose I did? Harry standing there as sulky as a statue, looking as if he would like to tear up his share and throw it into the fire. I was so delighted I ran and threw my arms round her neck, and kissed Aunt Connor. I hugged her quite heartily. I did not understand five hundred pounds; but I knew I could get something nice for Harry, and a new dress and a wedding bonnet, with orange-blossoms, out of what she gave me. And she cried, too, and kissed me as if I had been her own child; and it was no hypocrisy, whatever you may think. Harry snatched me away, and quite turned me out of the room to get my bonnet. He looked the sulkiest, most horrid fellow imaginable. I almost could have made faces at him as he sent me away; it was our first real quarrel; but I can’t say I was very much afraid.

When we got out of doors he was quite in a passion with poor Aunt Connor. “Kind! what do you mean by kind? why, you’ve been living on your own money. I am sure she{62} has not spent more on you, besides making you her servant,” cried Harry. “And to take her present! and kiss her—pah! I would not do it for a hundred pounds.”

“Nobody asked you, sir,” said I: “but come this way, please Harry, I want to look at one shop-window—just one. I saw something there yesterday that would just do for me; and now I can afford to buy a dress.”

“By Jove!” cried Harry, “what creatures you women are; here we are, on as good as our wedding-day, walking home for the first time, and you are thinking of the shop-windows! Are you just like all the rest?”

“Oh, indeed, just precisely,” said I. “Ah, Harry, I never was in the street before that I felt quite free and yet quite protected and safe. Only think of the difference! I am not afraid of anybody or anything to-day. I am going home. If you were not so grave and proper I think I could dance all the way.”

Harry did not say another word; he held my arm close, and called me by my name. My name was Milly darling, to Harry; he said it sounded like the turn of an Irish song. He calls me Milly darling still, though we have been married two years.

And how pretty he had made that little parlour over Mrs. Grogram’s shop! Not a boot about anywhere that I could see, nor the shadow of a cigar; clean new muslin curtains up, and flowers on the table; and the landlady curtseying, and calling me Mrs. Langham. It was the very first time I had heard the name. How odd it sounded! and yet an hour after I should have laughed if any one had called me Miss Mortimer, as if that were the most absurd thing in the world.

And to make home does not require many rooms or a great deal of furniture. I have not a “house of my own” yet, and, perhaps, may not have for years. A poor subaltern, with nothing but his pay, when he is so foolish as to marry, has to take his wife to lodgings; but the best house in the world could not have felt to me a warmer, safer, more delightful home than Mrs. Grogram’s parlour above the shop.{63}

Chapter V.

“IT is only right, however,” said Harry, “that before we leave we should know all that Mrs. Connor can tell us, Milly darling, about your family and your relations. Though she’s to have your five hundred pounds, she need not have your family archives too.”

“Why, Harry, you almost speak as if you grudged her the five hundred pounds!”

“And so I do,” said Harry. “Just now, while I am so poor, it might have made you a little comfortable. Please Heaven, after a while, five hundred pounds will not matter so much; at least it is to be hoped so. If there would only come a war——”

“Harry, you savage! how dare you say so!” cried I.

“Nonsense! what’s the good of a soldier except to fight?” he said. “Active service brings promotion, Milly. You would not like to see me a subaltern at forty. Better to take one’s chance of getting knocked on the head.”

“Ah, it is very easy for you to talk,” said I; “and if I could disguise myself and ’list like Lady Fanshawe——”

List! you five-foot creature! you could be nothing but a drummer, Milly; and besides, Lady Fanshawe did not ’list, she——”

“Never mind, I could contrive as well as she did,” said I. “I could get upon stilts or something, and be your man, and never disclose myself till I had cut down all your enemies, and brought you safe out of the battle, and then fainted in your arms.”

“Pleasant for me,” said Harry; “but I do believe, in spite of romance, Fanshawe himself would have given his head to have had his wife safe at home that time. Do you think it would be a comfort to a man if he was shot down himself to think his wife was there with nobody to take care of her? No, Milly darling; the truest love would stay at home and pray.”

“And die,” said I; “I understand it better now. If I were ’listing and going after you, it would not be for your sake, Harry, but for my own. How do women keep alive, do you think, when those that belong to them are at the wars?”{64}

Neither of us knew; but to think of it made us shudder and tremble,—I that should have to bear it some day! for the very people in the streets said that war was coming on.

“In the meantime let me remind you,” said Harry, “that we’re going to Aunt Connor’s to bid them good-bye, and that I mean to ask her all about your relations, and get a full history of your family, in case you might happen to be a princess in disguise, or a great heiress. By the bye, she said something like that. Only don’t be too sanguine, Milly; if there had been anything more to get on your account, Aunt Connor would have ferreted it out.”

I thought he was rather hard upon her, but could not really say anything in her defence. I had myself begged Harry, after two or three talks with Aunt Connor about it, not to say any more to her about claiming the five hundred pounds. She had only her jointure, poor lady, and could not have paid it without ruining herself. And, after all, she had always paid Nurse Richards for me, and had kept me, and been kind enough to me. So it was settled she was to keep it, and give us the five-and-twenty pounds a-year. Not that she would allow, straight out, that she had it. She always pretended it was somebody else that paid her the interest, and that it was the very best investment in the world, and she wished she could get as much for her money. Poor Aunt Connor! her pretence did not deceive anybody; but I suppose it was a sort of comfort to herself.

I did not take any part in Harry’s questions at first; it was all I could do to answer the girls, who wanted to know all how we were going to travel, and everything about it. Patricia brought me down her warm cloak that she had worn all last winter. She said, though it wasn’t new, it would be a comfortable wrap for the journey, if I would have it; and indeed I thought so too, though Harry, I dare say, would have made a fuss about it, if I had consulted him. But when Aunt Connor really began to talk about poor papa and mamma, I hushed the girls and listened. I never had heard anything about them. It was natural it should be very interesting to me.

“It was more from hearsay than knowledge, for, of course, Milly’s papa was a great deal older than me,” said Aunt Connor, with a little toss of her head. “He was forty when he married Maria, my poor Connor’s only sister; and she was not very young either; and it went very hard with her when Milly there came into the world; but though she died, poor soul! he{65} would not call the babe Maria, do what we would, but Millicent, because it was the great name in his family. That was how we came to hear about his family at all. His head was a little touched, poor soul! He said what if she should come into the Park property after all, and not be called Milly? He said Millicent Mortimer had been a name in the family from the Conquest, or the Restoration, or something; and the heiress that wasn’t Millicent had no luck. When he got weakly, he maundered on for ever about his family. It was cousins or cousins’ children had the property, and one of them had jilted him. He used to say, in his wandering way, that one would never come to good; she’d never bring an heir to the property. But whether there were sons, or if it was only a lady between him and the estate, or how the rights of it were, I could not tell you. We used to think half of it was maundering, and my poor dear Connor never put any faith in it. Except Maria Connor that married him being not so young as she once was, not a creature about knew Mr. Mortimer. He was an Englishman, and not much of a man any how. No offence to you, Milly, dear; he was the kind of man that never does any good after he’s been jilted; so, if you should happen to meet with that cousin of his that did it, you can put out your anger upon her. He left no particulars, poor man. I don’t believe it ever came into his head that it might really matter for his poor little girl to have friends that would help her on in the world. And to be sure, Milly was but a year old when papa died.”

“But this was worth taking some pains and making some inquiries about,” said Harry. “Where did those friends live? What county did he belong to?—you must surely have known.”

“We knew no more than I tell you, Langham, dear. My poor dear Connor, as I tell you, never put any faith in it. There’s some books in the house belonging to him, that I was always to have sought out and given to Milly. I’ll get them to-day, if I can, before you leave. But if you’ll trust my opinion, I don’t think it’s the least good in the world. At the best, he was but a distant cousin, if all was true, he said; and spoke about his little girl proving heir after all, more in spite against her that jilted him than anything else. Why, all he had, poor man, did not come to but a trifle over five hundred pounds;—I mean—dear! what a memory I have!—three hundred pounds, for poor dear Connor put a large slice to Milly’s little fortune. Now that’s all I have to tell you. But I’ll get Milly her father’s books.”{66}

And I have not the least doubt it was all she had to tell us; every word she knew. But that very night we got the books just as we were packing up. They were as damp and mouldy as they could be, odd volumes of one thing and another; one of Shakespeare, with Richard A. Mortimer written in it, and “Haworth” underneath; another was Hudibras; another was an old French school copy of Racine, with “Sarah Mortimer, the Park, May, 1810,” upon it, and in it an old pencil drawing all curled up at the edges, and rubbed out in some places, of a great house with trees and gardens round it, and a young lady mounting her horse at the door; scribbled at the corner of this, in a strange scratchy hand, was a kind of little inscription: “Sarah as I saw her last, and the Park—I wonder was I in love with them both? R. M.” The last of this was evidently written at a later time than the first. But that was all. Not a single clue to papa’s grand friends, who they were, or where they were. I dare say there are a hundred thousand parks in England, and, unless we could find it out from the drawing (which, I am sorry to say, was a very poor one. Harry, being disappointed and spiteful, took the pains to point out to me that the house was leaning up against the trees, and off the perpendicular, and that the young lady was on the wrong side of the horse), there seemed no information at all in poor papa’s books. Poor papa! it was very cruel of Harry! most likely his heart was breaking when he drew “Sarah as I saw her last.” Do you say he might have put her on the right side of the horse for all that, you cruel savage? Perhaps there were tears in his eyes all the time, Mr. Langham. You are not sentimental. I dare say you would not cry if you were looking at me for the last time. But that has nothing to do with poor papa. I have no doubt he must have been a very feeling man.

However, we did not make anything out of the books; and I am sure I should not have said half so much about it except that Harry really took an interest in it which quite surprised me. I never expected to turn out an heiress, nor cared much whether I had grand relations or not; and a journey with Harry in that sweet September weather was far too delightful to let me think of anything else. It was as good as a wedding tour.{67}

Chapter VI.

THE regiment was ordered to Edinburgh; and it was there we went accordingly in that lovely autumn weather. I don’t think Harry quite liked to hear me talk of Nurse Richards and the way she brought me up; but he was pleased enough to take walks with me all round that castle which was the centre of my recollections. At first we used to spend every leisure moment we had wandering up and down the steep walks, and always pausing to look up at the great precipice of rock. It was like a friend to me, rising up out of the soft tiers and green slopes of grass: the two churches down at its foot looking so mean and tiny beside it. People should not build churches there. I almost think even a great noble cathedral would look shabby under the shadow of that rock; and only to think of that dreadful West Church and the other one! how they can dare venture to stand there and don’t move and crumble down of themselves! They would if there was any feeling in stone.

We got our lodgings out to the south of the castle, two nice little cosy rooms. It was not a fashionable quarter, to be sure, nor were the rooms very grandly furnished; but we had such views from the windows! The Castle Rock, with its buildings jutting on the very edge, and yet standing so strong and firm; the harsh ridge of the crags behind, and the misty lion-head over all, gazing like a sentinel towards the sea. And it was not these only, but all the clouds about them. Such dramas every day! Now all sweet and serene like happiness; now all thundery and ominous like a great misfortune; now brightened up with streaks of home and comfort; now settling down leaden-dark, and heavy like death itself, or despair. I never was poetical that I know of; but it was like reading a very great poem every day to live in that little house at Bruntsfield. Harry enjoyed it as much as I did. We lived the very cheapest that ever was. We never went out anywhere; for Harry had always a little society with his brother officers and at mess, and I had him, and old Mrs. Saltoun, our landlady, to talk to when he was away, and was as happy as the day was long. All the pleasantest recollections I had as a child were connected with this place; and when I looked out of my{68} window at night and saw the lights shining up on the top of the Castle Rock, and the stars higher still glimmering out above, or the moon revealing out of the dark where Arthur’s Seat lay quiet, couched like a sentinel; and heard the recall trumpet pealing out high into the clear air, my mind used to wander from dear Nurse Richards, and the stories she used to tell me, back to my great happiness now. When Harry found me at the window crying to myself, he thought I was low-spirited. Low-spirited! I was crying for pure happiness; because I was too happy to tell it, or put it in words, or show it anyhow else.

All this time we had never heard a single word from Harry’s uncle who promised him the present on his birthday. This uncle was the only relation he had except some cousins whom he did not know much about. He was very near as friendless as I was; only that he remembered his father and mother perfectly well, and had been brought up at home, which made a great difference. Harry of course had written to his uncle to say what had occurred; and he had never answered the letter. He was an old bachelor, and rather rich; and if he did not take offence, and nothing happened, it had always been supposed that Harry was to be his heir; though I did not know this till after we were married and could not untie ourselves, however angry any one might be.

One day, however, Harry came home to me with a wonderful face. I could not tell, though I knew what his face meant pretty well by this time, what it was that day; whether he was angry, or disappointed, or vexed, or only bursting with laughter. It turned out he was all of them together. He tossed a letter on the table, and laughed and stamped his foot, as if he did not quite know what he was doing.

“By Jove, it’s too absurd!” cried Harry; for I could not get him to leave off that stupid exclamation: but I thought it must be a little serious too, as well as absurd, by the look in his eye.

And what should it be but a letter from his uncle, declaring that, though nothing else would have induced him to do such a thing, yet, to punish Harry’s rashness and presumption, he had made up his mind to a step which everybody assured him was the most prudent thing he could do, and which it was only a pity he had not thought of sooner; this was, in short, that he had married as well as Harry. Enclosed his nephew would find cards addressed to his new wife: and, as for the expenses of such an undertaking, he assured Harry that it{69} would be ridiculous to look for any assistance to a man in similar circumstances with himself. On a clear understanding of which he could certainly afford to wish his nephew joy,—but nothing else,—for he meant now to have heirs of his own.

Harry stared at me while I read this letter with a sort of angry fun and indignation in his face, which would turn either one way or another, I could see, according to how I received it. I cannot say I was the least disappointed. I threw down the letter, and clapped my hands and laughed. It was the most whimsical letter you could imagine; and, as for the birthday present, or any other assistance to us, I had never looked for it since Harry wrote what we had done.

“Weel, weel, it’s no ill news, that’s a comfort. But, Captain, you maunna come in rampaging and disturbing the lady when we’re no looking for you,” said Mrs. Saltoun, who had been sitting with me. “Now I’ll gang my ways ben the house; and you ken where to find me, Mrs. Langham, my dear, when you want me again.”

I had it on my lips to beg her not to go away, but stopped in time, for Harry naturally, though he likes her very well, does not take comfort in the good old lady as I do. When she was gone he laughed out again, but a little abruptly, and not as if he felt particularly happy about the news.

“Why, Harry, what’s the matter; did you expect anything?” said I.

“Well, not exactly, to be sure,” said Harry, with a half-ashamed look; “except the first moment when I recognised the old fellow’s handwriting. I did think it would be pleasant, Milly darling, to get some little comforts about you just now.”

“I have quantities of comforts,” said I; “and such a jewel of an old lady to look after me when you are away. There is nobody in the world so lucky as me.”

“Lucky!” said Harry, with a little shout. “If you should turn out a great heiress to be sure; that’s always a possible contingency, according to your Aunt Connor. Otherwise, with all sorts of things going to happen to us, and only my subaltern’s pay——”

“Mr. Langham, you forget my five-and-twenty pounds a year!” cried I.

And how do you think the savage answered me? “The old witch!” exclaimed Harry, “to think of her stopping your simple mouth with that ten pounds! I’d have seen her ducked,{70} or burned, or whatever they do to witches, before I’d have taken it!—and cheating you out of your little morsel of fortune! How long do you suppose you’ll get your five-and-twenty pounds?”

“As long as poor Aunt Connor can pay it,” said I. “Things might come in the way to be sure; but she means to pay it regularly, and always will when she can. What makes you so discontented, Harry? We have enough for to-day, and God knows all about to-morrow.”

“Ah, yes! but He’s far off, Milly, to a poor fellow like me. How can I tell that He cares much what’s to become of us,—unless, indeed, it were for your sake.”

“Oh, Harry, Harry! how dare you say so!” cried I. “And see how good He has been to us two orphans. Neither of us had any home or any one belonging to us; and only look round you now!”

Do you think it was not very much that he had to look round upon?—a little room, low-roofed, and humbly furnished. It was nothing to any other man or woman in the world; but we were two of us together in it, and it was our home. Could I help but cry when I thought how different I was from Aunt Connor’s niece in the nursery? And Harry was just as thankful as I was, though he had his little pretences of grumbling like this now and then. Does anybody think he was really anxious, either about his uncle’s present that was never to come now, or my five hundred pounds that was not much more to be relied on, or what was to happen to us? No! he was no more anxious than I was; only now and then he pretended to make a little fuss about it, and to be wanting something better for me.{71}

Chapter VII.

WE were nearly two years in Edinburgh; and it was there, of course, that baby Harry came into the world. He made a great difference in many things. I could not go out to walk with Harry any longer; I could not even sit and talk with him so much, and, however economical I was, it could not be denied that already three of us cost more than two of us had done. It is strange enough, but still it is true, baby, bless him, brought thorns upon the roses that came with him into the world. Harry had not lived in a family since his father died long ago; he had lived a young man’s life, and had his own fastidious fancies like (I suppose) most young men. He was very much delighted when baby came, but he was not so much delighted when baby was always with us, and occupying almost all my time and attention; and it fretted him when he saw traces about that once nice cosy sitting-room, which was nursery now as well as dining-room and drawing-room; even baby’s basket, all trimmed with white muslin and pink ribbons, which he thought very pretty at first, annoyed him now when he saw it about; and when I had to stop talking to him in order to see after baby, he would first laugh, then bite his lip, then whistle, then go to the window, and after a while say he had better smoke his cigar outside while I was so busy. I dare say this cost me a few tears, for of course I thought there was no occupation in the world so sweet as nursing baby, and was sadly disappointed just at first that Harry could not be content to watch his pretty ways every moment as I did; however, I had to make up my mind to it. And as it was my business to mind Harry as well as his son, I had to think it all over in my mind what was to be done. It was hard work considering what was best; for to think of getting a servant upon our small means went to my very heart. At last one day I formed a great resolution, and took Mrs. Saltoun into my confidence.

“Here is how it is,” said I, “I must have a maid to help me with baby when Mr. Langham is at home. Men can’t understand things; they think it so odd to see one always with a baby on one’s lap; especially when they have not been accustomed to anything of the sort. Mrs. Saltoun, I shall be obliged to have a maid.”{72}

“I told you so, my dear, the very day the lammie was born,” said Mrs. Saultoun; “but I’m one that never presses my advice. I know experience is far more effectual than anything I can say.”

“But look here—I can’t afford it—it’s a disgrace to think of such a thing with our small means, while I am perfectly strong and quite able to take care of him myself; but what can I do?” said I.

“My dear,” said Mrs. Saltoun, “poverty’s dreadful, and debt is worse; but it’s heaviest of all the three to make a young married man discontented with his ain house. Dinna be affronted; I’m no saying a word! the Captain’s just extraordinary; but he’s no the lad to be second to the baby for a’ that; and it’s nothing to sigh about. Thae’s just the kind of troubles every woman has to set her face to, as sure’s she’s born. My dear, however much ye canna afford, you’ll have to contrive.”

“Well, I have been thinking. If you will promise faithfully never to tell anybody, and keep my secret, and above everything, whatever you do, never let Harry know!” cried I.

“I’ll promise,” said Mrs. Saltoun; “but I’ll not promise to give my consent unless it’s feasible and in reason; and no unbecoming the Captain’s bonnie young wife.”

“The Captain’s wife!—ah, if he were only the Captain!—but he’s just a subaltern yet,” said I; “however, you will be disappointed if you think I am meaning anything great. I can’t do anything to bring in money, and I am sure Harry would not let me if I could. No—it’s only—oh, Mrs. Saltoun, if you would help me!—I could get up all the linen myself. I can do it, though you may not think so. All Harry’s things that he is so particular about, the laundress here never pleases him; and baby’s frocks. I think if you would contrive to help me, I could save so many shillings a week. I’ll do those pretty collars of yours and your fine caps, and you shall see how pretty they’ll look.”

“But your pretty bits of hands, my dear?” said Mrs. Saltoun; “a small matter of work betrays itself on a lady’s hands that’s not used to do anything. They would let out your secret, however well I kept it. What would you do with your hands?”

“But it will not hurt my hands—such beautiful clean work—it is quite a lady’s work,” said I; “and then I can put gloves on when I am done, and get some of the kalydor stuff. Besides, it will be only one day in the week.”

Mrs. Saltoun sat thinking it over, but she could not say a{73} single word against it. If I couldn’t have done it, it might have been slow work learning; but I had a genius for it! Ah, hadn’t I ironed out Aunt Connor’s lace much oftener than the clear-starcher did! So here was something at once that could be saved; and nobody knows how dreadful the laundress’s bill is when there’s a baby in the house; so now I thought I might venture to try and look for a maid.

“My great terror was you were thinking of giving lessons, or selling some trumpery of fancy work, begging your pardon, my dear,” said Mrs. Saltoun; “for the young ladies now-a-days would a’ break their necks to make money, before they would take a step out of their road to save it; and indeed, you’re not far wrong that clear-starching is lady’s work. It takes nice fingers, dainty, clean, and light. I was in an awfu’ fright it was lessons on the piano, or handscreens to take into the Repository. But it’s really very reasonable for a young creature of your years; if you’re quite clear in your own mind you can take the responsibility of shirts. Of all the things I’ve seen in my life I canna remember that I ever saw a man what you could call perfectly pleased.”

“I am not afraid about that; but remember, you have promised solemnly, upon your honour,” said I, “never, whatever you do, to tell Harry!”

“I’ll keep my word. But what put it into your head, a sensible young woman like you, to go and run away with the like of a young sodger officer, that everybody knows have scarcely enough for themselves, let alone a wife? And if it’s hard work now, what will it be when you’ve a large family? and how will you ever live or keep your heart if he goes to war?”

“Mrs. Saltoun, don’t speak!” cried I; “what is the use of making me miserable? He is not going to the war to-day. It is not certain there is to be a war at all. Why do you put such dreadful things in my mind? If he goes I’ll have to bear it like the other soldiers’ wives; but do you suppose I have strength to bear it now beforehand, before the time? God does not promise anybody so much. If such a dreadful, dreadful thing should be, I’ll get strength for it that day.”

The good old lady did not say a word, but stroked my hand that was resting on the table in a kind of comforting, coaxing way. I looked up very much alarmed, but I could not see anything particular in her face. I suppose she was sorry for me only in a general sort of way; because I was young, and{74} poor, and just beginning my troubles. So strange! I was pitying her all the same for being old, and nearly at the end of hers. How different things must seem at that other end of the road! Some of her children were dead, some married, close at hand so far as space was concerned, but far distant lost in their own life. I dare say when she liked she could go back into memory and be again a young wife like me, or an anxious middle-aged mother like her own daughter-in-law—and here it had ended, leaving her all alone. But she was very cheerful and contented all the same.

Harry came in while I was busy with planning about my new maid. After I had decided that she would have to sleep somewhere, and wondered why neither Mrs. Saltoun nor myself had ever thought of that, I had begun to wonder what sort of a person I should get; whether, perhaps, she would be a dear good friend-servant, or one of the silly girls one hears about. If she were a silly girl, even, there might be good in her. But here Harry came in, and my thoughts were all dissipated. He looked a little excited, and had a paper in his hand, out of which he seemed just about to read me something. Then he paused all at once, looked first at me and then at baby’s cradle, and his face clouded all over. I got terribly alarmed; I rushed up to him and begged him to tell me, for pity, what it was.

“It’s nothing but fancy,” said Harry. “I was going to tell you great news, my Milly darling; but it came over me, somehow, what you would do, and who would take care of you if you should be left alone with your baby; even though I were not killed.”

“God would take care of us,” I cried out sharp, being in a kind of agony. “Say it out—you are going to the war?”

“No, no; nothing of the sort; only look here. It has thrown us all into great excitement; but we are not under orders, nor like to be,” said Harry. “Don’t tremble—we are all safe yet, you foolish Milly. Look here.”

Though I was leaning upon him, and he held the paper before my eyes, I could not read a word. But I guessed what it was. It was the Proclamation of War.

“Come out with me and hear it read at the Cross. It is to be done at twelve o’clock. Come,” said Harry, coaxing and soothing me; “it is something to see. Pluck up a heart, Milly! Come and hear it courageously, like a soldier’s wife. But, oh! I forgot baby,” he said, stopping short all at once with a soft of half-annoyed laugh.{75}

“Baby shan’t prevent me this time,” I cried; for what between this dreadful news and the excitement in Harry’s mind, and the sudden way he stopped when he recollected I couldn’t rightly go out with him, I was desperate. “Mrs. Saltoun will keep him till I come back; and he will not wake, perhaps, for an hour.”

The old lady came when I asked her; and was quite pleased to sit down by the cradle while I tied on my bonnet with my trembling hands. Harry was very kind—very pleased. We went along winding up the steep paths, through the gardens to the Castle, my favourite walk, and into that long, grand, noisy old street with the yellow haze lingering between the deep houses, down the long slope towards Holyrood. I could see the people clearly enough about the streets, the little groups all clustered about the outside stairs, and the stir of something going to happen. But I could not look at the official people coming to say it again and make it more certain. If the trumpet had been a gun and killed somebody, my heart could scarcely have leaped more. Harry’s cheek flushed up; and I could almost fancy I felt the blood stir and swell in the arm I was leaning on. He was a soldier, and he forgot me as he held up his head and listened. Just then I could not hold up my head. The trumpet sounded to me, somehow, as if it came lonely out of the distance over some battle where men were dying who had wives and babies at home. A woman stood before me crying, and drew my attention for a moment. She dared say out what was in her heart, because, though perhaps she was no poorer, she was not a lady like me. “Eh, weary on them! it’s your man and my man that’s to pay for their fancies,” she was saying among her tears. “Glad! do ye ask me to be glad at sound o’ war? If our regiment doesna gang the day, it’ll gang some day. I’ve five weans that canna fend for themsels’, and I’m a sodger’s wife. God help us a’!” I dropped my veil over my face to hide my eyes from Harry, and slid my hand out of his arm—he, all excited in his soldier-mind, scarcely knowing it—to speak to my neighbour who had spoken to my heart. I had nothing to give her but my hand and my own troubled fellow-feeling, too deep and sore to be called sympathy. “For I am a soldier’s wife, too; and God help us, as you say!” I cried in her ear. She wiped off her tears, poor soul, to look at me as Harry drew me away. She and the other woman with her whispered about us as we went away through the crowd. They forgot their own anxiety to pity “the poor young thing, the young lieutenant’s wife.” I know they did,{76} the kind creatures; for one of them said so another day.—God help us all, soldiers’ wives!

“But do you know this is like a little coward, Milly darling,” said Harry, as we walked home, when he found I could not speak, “and foolish as well. We are not going to the wars.”

“If you are not going to-day, you will go some day,” I cried, with a sob. She said true, poor soul; I felt it in my heart.

“To be sure we shall,” said Harry; “and you care neither for glory nor promotion, nor to have your husband do his duty, you poor-spirited Milly! But you can’t act Lady Fanshawe now; you will have baby to comfort you at home.”

“Do you mean that you are going?” cried I.

“Hush, hush! why this is like a child. I am not going. But, Milly, understand; if I don’t go some day, I shall be wretched. Make up your mind; you are a soldier’s wife.”

So I went home with this in my heart. Oh, my poor little economies, my little vulgar cares about the housekeeping! And perhaps he was going away from me to be killed. But hush, hush! I could not be Lady Fanshawe any more, now that there were three of us in the world; and Harry said the truest love would stay at home and pray.

Chapter VIII.

THE very next day after that, while I was singing baby to sleep, sitting all alone by the fire, there was a soft knock at the door. I said, “Come in!” thinking it was Mrs. Saltoun, when there suddenly appeared before me a figure as different as possible from the nice little cosy figure of our good old landlady. This was an overgrown girl, fourteen or thereabouts, in the strangest scanty dress. A printed cotton frock, very washed out and dingy, so short as to leave a large piece of legs, clothed in blue-grey stockings, uncomfortably visible;{77} very red arms that somewhat looked as if they were all elbow and fingers; a great checked blue and white pinafore, much washed out like the frock, into the breast of which the hands wore thrust now and then by way of relief to the awkwardness of their owner; hair disposed to be red, and superabundant in quantity, thrust back as far as was practicable under the shade of a queer big bonnet, not only a full-sized woman’s bonnet, but one ten years old, and made in the dimensions common at that distant period. She stood at the door looking at me in a perfect agony of innocent awkwardness, shuffling one foot over the other, twisting her red fingers, holding down her bashful head, but all the time staring with wistful eyes at baby and myself, and so sincere a look of awe and admiration that of course I was touched by it. She did not say a word, but dropped a foolish curtsey, and grew violently red standing at the door. I could not think what such a strange apparition wanted with me.

“What do you want, my good girl?” said I at last.

“The mistress said I might come,” with another curtsey. Then, after a violent effort, “They said you was wanting a lass.”

A lass! Here she was then, the first applicant for the new situation of baby’s personal attendant! Oh dear, what a spectre! I had to pause a little before I could answer her. Really, though I was not much disposed to laughter, the idea was too ludicrous to be treated gravely.

“Yes, I want a lass;’ but not one so young as you,” said I. “I want somebody who can take care of my baby. Who sent you to me?”

“The mistress said I might come,” answered the apparition; “I can keep wee babies fine.”

“You can keep wee babies fine! How old are you?” cried I.

“I’m just fourteen since I was born, but some folk count different. I’m awfu’ auld other ways,” said my extraordinary visitor, with a kind of grotesque sigh.

The creature roused my interest with her odd answers and wistful round eyes. “Shut the door and come here,” said I. “Do you know me? and what tempted you to think you could do for my servant? Were you ever in a place before?”

“No; but I’ve seen you gaun by, the Captain and you, and I would be awfu’ glad if you would let me come. There’s plenty things I can do if I could get leave to try,” cried the girl with a wonderful commotion in her voice. “I’ve nursed{78} bairns since ever I was a bairn myself, and I can wash, and I can sew. Oh, leddy, tak me! I’ll no eat very much, and I dinna want no wage; and I’ll learn everything you tell me, for the mistress says I’m awfu’ quick at learning; and I’ll serve you hand and foot, nicht and day!”

“But, my poor girl,” said I, quite amazed by this burst of eloquence, “why do you want so much to come to me?”

Upon this another extraordinary change came upon my would-be maid. She fidgeted about, she blushed fiery red, she thrust her red hands into the bosom of her pinafore, she stood upon one heavy foot, making all sorts of wonderful twists and contortions with the other. At last in gulps, and with every demonstration of the most extreme confusion and shame-facedness, burst forth the following avowal. “Oh! because you’re rael bonnie; and you smile—and oh, I would like to come!”

It was an extraordinary kind of flattery, certainly; but I felt my cheeks flush up, and I cannot deny my heart was touched. I remember too, when I was a little girl, taking fancies to people; I believe I might have fallen in love with a lady and gone and offered myself to be her servant, as likely as not if I could have done it. The uncouth creature no more meant to flatter me than to offend me. She was deeply ashamed of having made her confession. Her shame, and her admiration, and her passionate childish feeling quite went to my heart.

“You are a very strange girl,” said I. “What is your name, and where do you live? and do your parents know what you want with me?”

“They ca’ me Leczie Bayne. My father died six months since,” said the girl, falling into a kind of vacant tone after her excitement, as if this account of herself was something necessary to go through, but not otherwise interesting. “I never had any mother, only a stepmother, and lots of little bairns. She’s gaun back to her ain place, among her friends, and I’m to be left, for I’ve naebody belonging to me. We live down the road, and I used ay to see you gaun by. Whiles you used to smile at me, no thinking; but I ay minded. And the folk said you we’re awfu’ happy with the Captain, and had a kind look for everybody,—and oh, leddy, I’ve naebody belonging to me!”

I could have cried for her as she stood there, awkward, before the little fire, with great blobs of tears dropping off her cheeks, rubbing them away with her poor red hands. I knew no more how to resist her, in that appeal she made to my{79} happiness, than if I had been a child like a baby in my lap. The tears came into my eyes, in spite of myself. In the impulse of the moment I had nearly broken forth and confided to her my terror and grief about Harry, and this dreadful war that was beginning. She took possession of me, like the soldier’s wife, with a nearer fellow feeling than sympathy. Poor, forlorn, uncouth creature, she stood before me like my old self, strangely transmogrified, but never to be denied. I could not answer her—for what could I say? Could I cast her off, poor child, led by the instincts of her heart to me of all people? And oh dear, dear, what a ridiculous contrast to all the passionate, elevated feeling of her story, could I take her all in her checked pinafore and blue stockings, a pathetic grotesque apparition, to be baby’s nurse and my little maid?

There never was a harder dilemma: and imagination, you may be sure, did its very best to make things worse, by bringing up before me the pretty, tidy, fresh little maid I had been dreaming of, with a white apron and a little cap, and plump arms to hold my baby in. What could I do? and oh, if I could not resist my fate, what would Harry say to me? How he would shrug his shoulders and admire my good taste; how he would look at her in his curious way as if she were a strange animal; how he would laugh at me and my soft heart! I got quite restless as the creature stood there opposite to me, twisting her poor foot and clasping her hands hard as she thrust them into the bosom of her pinafore. I could not stand against her wistful eyes. I grew quite desperate looking at her. Could I ever trust my child in those long red arms that looked all elbow—and yet how could I send her away?

“Lizzie, my poor girl,” cried I, remonstrating, “don’t you see I am very, very sorry for you? But look here now: my baby is very young, not three months old, and I could never dare trust him to a young girl like you. You must see that very well, a girl with so much sense; and besides, I want somebody who knows how to do things. I don’t think I could teach you myself; and besides——”

Here I fairly broke down, stopped by the flood of arguments which rose one after another, not to be defeated, in Lizzie’s round anxious eyes.

“But I dinna need to learn,” she cried out whenever my voice faltered and gave her a chance. “I ken! I would keep that bonnie baby from morning to night far sooner than play;{80} if practice learns folk, I’ve been learning and learning a’ my life; and I’m that careful I would rather break every joint in a’ my body than have a scratch on his little finger; and I can hem that you wouldna see the stitches; and I can sing to him when he’s wakin’, and redd up the house when he’s in his bed. I’m no telling lees; and I’ll serve you on my knees, and never have a thought but how to please you, oh, leddy, if you’ll let me come!”

Could I resist that? I do not believe Harry himself could if he had heard her. I gave in because I could not help myself. I did it in shame and desperation, but what could I do? She was too many for me.

“Go down stairs and ask Mrs. Saltoun to come up,” said I.

She went off in a moment, almost before I could look up, and vanished out of the room without any noise—I suppose because of the high excitement the poor child was in. Mrs. Saltoun came up rather flurried, casting very strange looks at Lizzie. When I saw the dear prim old lady beside that extraordinary creature, and saw the looks she cast at her, the ludicrous part of it seized hold upon me, and I was seized with such a fit of laughing that I could scarcely speak.

“Mrs. Saltoun,” said I, “I don’t know really what you will think of me. I am going to take her for my maid.”

Mrs. Saltoun looked at me and looked at Lizzie, who made her a curtsey. She thought I had gone out of my senses. “It’s to be hoped it’s for lady’s maid and not for bairn’s maid then,” she said, with dreadful sarcasm. If Mrs. Saltoun was so severe, what would Harry say.

“She is an orphan and all alone; and she says she understands about children,” said I, humbly, in self-defence.

“Oh, if you please, I can keep bairns fine,” said Lizzie; “if ye’ll ask the neebors they’ll a’ tell; and oh, if the leddy will try me, dinna turn her against me again! I’m no a lassie in mysel. I’m awfu’ auld in mysel. Afore harm would come to the baby I would die.”

“And, my lass, what good would it do the lady if ye were to die,” said Mrs. Saltoun entering the lists, “after maybe killin’ her bonnie bairn?”

“I would a’ fa’ in pieces first!” cried Lizzie. “I would let them burn spunks in my fingers, or crush my feet as they did langsyne; there’s no a creature in the world I wouldna fecht and fell afore harm came to the wean!”

Mrs. Saltoun was not prepared for such an address; nor for{81} the true fire of enthusiasm and valour that burned through Lizzie’s tears; but she did not give in. I had the satisfaction to look on and listen while the old lady demonstrated in the clearest way that she would never do, without any particular regard for her feelings; and then quietly enjoyed the triumph when Lizzie burst forth upon Mrs. Saltoun, and in two minutes routed her, horse and foot. Half an hour after Mrs. Saltoun and I sat contriving what dress could be got up on the spur of the moment to make the creature presentable; and that very night, while Harry was at mess, she sat in the little kitchen downstairs helping to make up a fresh new printed dress for herself in a fashion which justified part of her assertions, and with a rapidity which I could explain only under the supposition that excitement had still forcible possession of her. I confess I was myself a little excited; though she was only a girl of fourteen and a servant, not to say the most grotesque and awkward-looking person imaginable, it is wonderful what an effect this sudden contact with so strange and characteristic a creature immediately had. My fears about the war faded off for the moment. I could not help being quite occupied with thoughts about the new-comer:—whether, after all, I ever would venture to trust baby with her,—what Harry would say when he saw that odd apparition;—whether I had only been very foolish;—whether I might have resisted. Lizzie Bayne had made herself the heroine of that night.

Chapter IX.

TWO days after, when Lizzie made her appearance with a decently made dress, long enough and wide enough to suit her stature, whatever might be her age; with a clean collar, a white apron, and smooth hair, she looked quite presentable. I cannot say she was good-looking; but, undeniably, she looked a capable creature, and with her lively brown eyes, good colour, and clear complexion might improve even in looks{82} by and by. But nobody could do anything for that grotesque awkwardness, which belonged to Lizzie’s age, perhaps, rather than to herself. She still stood upon one foot, and twisted the other round the leg that supported her. She worked uneasily with her big hands, making vain efforts to thrust them into the pinafore which recent improvements had swept away; and she still hung her head in agonies of awkwardness and self-consciousness. A creature so sensitively aware of observation, how could she be trusted with the most precious baby in the world? I repeated this five hundred times the first morning; but never once after I had fairly ventured to place the child in her arms.

“What on earth is that sprite doing here? Has Mrs. Saltoun taken her in, or where does she come from?” said Harry the first day. I felt quite piqued and affronted. I felt myself bound to defend her with all the earnestness in the world.

“Sprite! What do you mean? Why, that is my new maid, Henry, that I told you of; and a capital maid she is,” said I, firing up with all the consciousness of not having taken the wisest step in the world.

“Your new maid!” And Harry said, “Oh!” in the most aggravating manner in the world. I am obliged to confess that Lizzie’s arrival, so much out of the ordinary way, and the excitement of getting her up, of making her fit to appear, and of testing her qualities, had very much aroused my mind out of the heavy thoughts I had been entertaining a few days ago; so that I was no longer so subdued nor so entirely devoted to Harry but what I could be provoked with him now and then.

“There is nothing to cry out about; she is rather young, to be sure, and not the most graceful figure in the world; but she’s good and grateful, poor child, and I am quite content.”

“You must recollect though, Milly, that we can’t afford to keep anybody for charity,” said Harry; “she does not look very gainly; and if she can’t save you the half of your present trouble, I’ll turn out a tyrant, I warn you, and send her away.”

“I am quite the best judge, you may be sure,” said I, with a little internal tremor; “and I tell you I am satisfied. If you attempt to be tyrannical, it is you who shall be sent away.”

“Ah, Milly darling, how’s that! I shall be sent away soon enough,” said Harry, with a little sigh. “I have been thinking that all over since we talked of it the other day. What, you’ve forgot, have you, Milly? Thank heaven! I was only afraid you were fretting over it, and thinking where I should send you to be safe when the time came and I had to go away.”{83}

“Oh, Harry, how cruel!” said I. “I had got it out of my mind just then. Now, I shall never forget it again. And where could you send me? What would it matter, except to be near at hand for the post, and get the earliest news.”

“Unless you were to go to your Aunt Connor; poor Milly,” said he with a pitiful look at me.

“Have you got your orders?” cried I, clasping my hands.

He said, “Nonsense!” getting up hurriedly. “Indeed, Milly, you must consider this question without thinking it is all over the moment I speak of it; and don’t burden yourself with an unsuitable maid. You know, whether we go to the Crimea or not, we are likely very soon to go somewhere. The regiment cannot be long here.”

“Then, Harry, if there is nothing certain don’t let us talk of it,” said I; “when one’s heart is to be broken, one cannot keep always anticipating the moment.” “Don’t make any arrangements; when it comes, that will be time enough. I shall care about nothing but letters. So long as I can have letters I shall do.”

Harry stayed, lingering about me before he went out. “I am not so sure that the Lady Fanshawe idea is a foolish one after all,” he said after awhile. “What fetters you put a man into, you wives and babes! I wish I only knew somebody that would be very good to you if I have to go away. Nineteen! and to be left all by yourself in the world! It’s hard work, Milly, to be a soldier’s wife.”

“If you don’t mean anything particular—if there’s no orders come—have pity on me, and don’t talk, Harry!” I cried out. “When you must go, I’ll bear it. I shall do as well as the other soldiers’ wives. I can never be all by myself as long as you are in the world, though you should be ten thousand miles away. Don’t talk of it. I shall get strength when the day comes; but the day has not come nor the strength; don’t put me to needless torture, Harry.”

“I won’t,” he said again, with that little sigh, and went away leaving me very miserable. Oh! if all this happy life were to finish and come to an end. If I was to waken up some dreadful morning and find him gone, and all the light gone out like the light in a dream! I durst not think upon it. I got up and rushed about my little occupations. Lizzie came upstairs when I was taking baby, who had just woke from his morning sleep, out of the cradle. She stood, shy and doubtful, looking at me, seeing in a moment that I was not so cheerful as usual. Poor child, with a strange self-recollection that was{84} quite natural, but seemed very odd to me, she thought she had something to do with it. Her countenance fell directly. She came sidling up to me with her heart in her face. Mrs. Saltoun had taught her some faint outlines of common conventional civility, and succeeded in substituting “mem” for “leddy” in her style of address. She came up to me accordingly, with the tears ready to start, and every sign of grieved disappointment and restrained eagerness in her face. “Oh, mem,” cried Lizzie, “have I been doing wrong? Are you no pleased wi’ me?” The words went to my heart, I cannot tell how. It made me see more clearly than a dozen sermons how we were every one of us going about in a private little world of our own. To think that her shortcomings, the innocent grotesque creature, should throw me into such trouble! What a strange unconscious self-estimation that was not selfishness! In spite of myself, the load at my heart lightened, when I smiled up at the girl.

“Lizzie,” said I on the impulse of the moment, not thinking that I might perhaps wound her; “if we did not suit each other, should we quite break our hearts?”

Lizzie coloured high, made a momentary pause, and dropped her queer curtsey, “Eh no, mem, no you; I couldn’t expect it,” said Lizzie, with a long sigh. Then, after another pause: “If it was a’ to turn out a dream after twa haill days; and, to be sure, it’s three days coming; but if it was a’ to come to naething after a’ this,” smoothing down her new dress, “and a’ the thoughts I’ve had in my mind, eh me! I think I would have nae heart ony mair either to break or bind.”

Now, perhaps there was not very much in these words; but they were so exactly what I had been thinking myself, that they seemed to make a new link between me and my odd child-maid.

“That is just what I have been thinking—but with far, far more reason,” said I; “for, oh, Lizzie! war’s proclaimed, and Mr. Langham may have to leave me; it might happen any day; and what should I do alone?”

“Oh, mem, dinna greet!” said Lizzie loudly: “dinna let tears fa’ on the wee baby; but I ken what you would do. Just nurse the bairn, and pray the Lord, and wait. If you were sending me awa’, it would be never to come back again; but if the Captain gangs to the wars he’ll come hame a great general; maybe he would have a ribbon at his breast and a Sir at his name!” cried Lizzie, glowing up suddenly. “Eh, wouldna we a’ be proud! You might weary whiles, but the Captain would{85} never forget you, nor be parted in his heart, if he was ten thousand miles away.”

“You strange little witch,” said I, crying, with the strangest feeling of comfort, “you say the very words that come into my heart!”

The creature gave me a bright affectionate look, with tears in her brown eyes. “And please can I take baby out for a walk?” she said, immediately falling back into her own department, with her little bob of a curtsey. “I’ll gang before the windows to let you see how careful I am. It’s the bonniest morning ever was. Eh, mem, if you’re pleased, I’ll ay see the sun shining,” cried my nursery-maid.

And I actually did trust her with my precious baby, and stood at the window watching her with breathless anxiety and satisfaction for a whole hour, afraid to lose sight of her for a moment. Steady as a judge walked Lizzie, grand and important in her “charge,” disdaining the passing appeals of “neighbours,” marching along on the sunny side of the way—for it was already cold enough to make that necessary—shading the child’s eyes with such adroit changes of his drapery and her own, preserving him from the wind at the corners, and picking her steps over the unequal road with such care and devotion, that I could have run downstairs and kissed her on the spot. The sight, somehow, drove half the bitterness of my thoughts out of my head. The sky was clear with that “shining after rain” which has so much hope and freshness in it. The wind was brisk, with plenty of floating clouds to knock about. Before us, in the clear air, the castle rock looked almost near enough to have touched it, with the sun shining on its bold grey front, and all those white puffs of clouds blowing against and around it, like heavenly children at their play. How it stood there, everlasting! How the sun smiled and caressed those old walls where Harry was, and warmed and brightened the cheerful bit of road where, to and fro, before my eyes, unconscious in his baby state, went Harry’s son. Ah, me! to-day is to-day, if one were to die to-morrow. I was too young to grope about for darkness to come, and lose the good of this beautiful hour. Besides, does not the good Lord know all about to-morrow? Beginning and end of it, one thing with another, it pleases Him. Presently we shall have it, and strength for it. So, away till your time, you dark hour! just now it is not God, but an enemy who sends you. The light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing to behold the sun.{86}

Chapter X.

WHEN Harry came home that evening, I knew he had something to tell me; but after the first start was over, I felt sure it was not anything painful from the look of his face. I may venture to say now that he was a very handsome young man in those days; but the thing that first drew my heart to him was the way he always betrayed himself with his face. Whatever he was feeling or thinking, you could tell it by his eyes; and if he sometimes happened to say anything he did not think, as happens to everybody now and then, his eyes woke up to a kind of sly, half ashamed, half amused expression, and let you know he was fibbing in the oddest way in the world.

“I almost fell upon a discovery to-night,” said Harry. “What should you have thought, Milly darling, if I had brought you home word about your father and that estate you are to come heir to? I actually thought I was on the scent of it for ten minutes at least.”

“But it was a mistake,” said I, very quietly.

“I confess, so far, it was a mistake; but still we may hear something,” said Harry. “You have heard me talk of old Pendleton scores of times. Fancy how I looked when he began about Haworth, a little town in Yorkshire, all sorts of stories, as if he knew all about it. After I had sat out a dozen anecdotes of other people, I asked him if he knew any Mortimers there. Oh yes, yes! he said briskly, old Mortimer lived in the brick house opposite the church; famous old fellow before he got so very rheumatic and useless—had a son about Pendleton’s own age. And here he shook his head: ‘Never did any good, sir! never did any good! Jilted in early life, and never got over it.’ You may suppose this made me prick up my ears.”

“My father!” said I.

“To be sure! it could not be anybody else; but it was your grandfather whom old Pendleton would keep talking of. I asked very closely all about him. It appears he only died about ten years ago; long after your father, Milly, and seems to have been tolerably rich, according to Pendleton. There’s none of the family remaining, Pendleton says. The red brick house is all falling to ruins; and how the money went, or{87} whether there was any money, he can’t tell. I have a strong idea of making some inquiries about it. Don’t you think it would be worth while?”

“It seems to me of late that you’re always thinking about money. Why is it?” said I. “Why should we go and trouble ourselves about people that have never inquired after us.”

“You simpleton!” cried Harry. “Who cares whether they like us or no; but that red brick cosy house for my Milly darling, and a little comfort to console her—it would take all the pricks out of my pillow when——”

“Don’t talk, Harry. I’ll not listen to you. I’ll have no inquiries made,” cried I, in desperation. “Every time I comfort myself a little you pull me back again. To-night I am very happy and content, and don’t care for your to-morrows. Be quiet and let my grandfather alone, if I ever had one. What do I care for him? He was either in debt and had no money to leave, or he was living on an annuity, or he endowed a hospital, or something. And the red brick house of course is in Chancery. Let the old gentleman alone. I’ll tell you about baby. He certainly noticed Mrs. Saltoun’s bird swinging in its cage to-day.”

“Nonsense! Pendleton is to write to his brother, who lives there, and ask for all the particulars. He says your grandfather was a character,” said Harry. “He belonged to some good family: Welsh, Pendleton thinks—but professed to scorn all that, and called his son after Arkwright, the cotton-spinner; that’s what the A. means in your father’s name. By Jove! I wouldn’t write myself Richard Arkwright if I could help it. What humbug it is giving fellows other people’s names! They must have had a fancy for it in those days. Guess what Pendleton’s own name is? He signs himself E. B. quite modestly. It’s Edmund Burke, upon my honour!”

“Well,” said I, “we have only got three names among us; and they are all simple enough.”

“Oh, so is Richard Arkwright when it’s a man’s own name,” said Harry. “Now what do you think of my discovery? I confess I think it’s something to know where one’s family belong to. If I could only have taken you to our dear old Rectory, Milly. What a pleasure it would have been to have thought of you there! I could have watched you all round every turn of the garden, although I had been at the other end of the world.”

“You are not going to the other end of the world; and we{88} have no claim upon the Rectory now, any more than on my grandfather,” said I. “Here is a cup of tea for you. Now do be content; and don’t talk, Harry; at least not on that subject. Of all the places in the world I like Edinburgh, a little to the south of the Castle, and close upon Bruntsfield Links.”

“You have no imagination, Milly,” said he. “However, we’ll hear what old Pendleton says; and if there is anything known about it I should be very much tempted, little as we have at present——”

“To throw our poor good money away,” cried I. “You who grudged baby his pretty hood! Oh, Harry, Harry, what wild fancies have you taken into your head?”

“To make my Milly a refuge when I’m away. Not so wild, after all,” he said to himself softly. I made a noise with my teacups, and would not hear him. It was hard work keeping cheerful when he would return and return to the same subject. Sometimes I trembled and wondered, with a sudden pang, was it a presentiment? But all the presentiments I ever heard of were sudden and did not last; and it was natural enough, too, that he should be anxious. If he did have to leave me, would not I work, or beg, or steal, or anything, to have everything comfortable for him? I forgave Harry for looking out for a home for his poor little wife; but yet every time he spoke of it, it went to my heart.

And I must say for myself that I never had the least hope either from my unknown relations or Harry’s. I could not believe in a grandfather, nor any cold strange people belonging to me. If I had friends they should have shown themselves friendly when I needed it most. Now I thought, in my pride, I did not want to know anything about them. I pictured to myself an old morose man, that would have nothing to say to his poor son’s only child. In my mind I took quite a prejudice against the very place, and dreamt all that night of a mouldy old red-brick house, with endless passages, and little steps now and then to throw one down and break one’s limbs in the darkness. Somehow, both Harry’s imagination and mine fixed on that old red-brick house. He thought it would be pleasant to settle me in such a place. I had the most frightful fancies about it. I could see myself going about the old grey faded rooms, and Harry away at the war. I could see a pale creature, that was me, go wringing her hands down the old staircase, and trembling at the window waiting for the post coming in. I could see dreadful shadows of scenes that might be when{89} the letters came, which I would not look at, but could not shut out of my heart. Harry did not think how he was torturing me when he spoke of that old red-brick house. It seemed, somehow, as if all my fears took solid form, and became real when they got a shelter to house themselves in. I grew superstitious, as most people do when their hearts are in great trouble. Going on from less to more I came to settle upon this as a token for evil. If anyhow, by any dreadful chance, something should come of it, and I should ever have that house in my power, then I should know that the light was to depart from me, and that I was to be set down, all by myself, and desolate, to wither down and pine to death where my hard-hearted grandfather had died. In my own mind, and without saying anything to anybody, I settled upon this sign; and grew so assured of it, just by fancying things, that, if I had heard that my grandfather had left me a fortune, and that we should be comfortable all the rest of our lives, I should have sunk down as if the intelligence was a blow. To be poor and happy, and have our own way to make, seemed just enough, somehow; and in my superstition I almost thought God would punish us for wanting more. I thought if wealth should possibly come, happiness would fly away. I made sure if Harry got his will it would be death to me. The thought of it put a new terror into my life. His going away was not now the first thing I was afraid of. I was afraid of his finding that home for me that he was so anxious about—that place where I could be comfortable without him. Every grief in the world came to be implied and suggested to my mind by the mention of that red-brick house.{90}

Chapter XI.

“OH yes, I am very fanciful, I know I am; but if Harry would only be content, and let me be happy while I can,” said I, trying, but without success, to gulp down my tears.

“Mrs. Langham, my dear, the Captain canna be content, and it stands to reason,” said Mrs. Saltoun; “and being anxious, as a good man should, to provide for his wife and his bairn, will no take him away an hour sooner than if he were a reckless ne’er-do-weel, that cared neither for the tane nor the tither. Be reasonable, and let him speak. He’s young and you’re young; and you’re neither o’ ye that wise but ye might thole mending. It’s a real, discreet, sensible thing o’ the young gentleman to try his very utmost for a home for his wife if he has to go away.”

“If you have taken his side I shall give up speaking,” said I. “What do I care for home, or anything else, if he is away?”

“But you care for the Captain’s peace of mind, Mrs. Langham, my dear,” said Mrs. Saltoun; “that’s far different. Maybe the truest love of a’ would make itself content to be left in splendour for the sake of a comfortable thought to them that’s going on a far different road. I wouldna say but the thought o’ your safety would lighten mony an hour of danger. Mony’s the strange thing I’ve seen in my life; but eh! when ye have them that ye maybe mayna have lang, gie them their will! Let him have his ain way, and gang in wi’ him if ye can. There’s mony a young wife like you would die cheerful, or do ony hard thing in the world for her husband, but canna see her way just to do that. Gie him his will! I was ower late learning that mysel’.”

The very tone in which my good old lady spoke plunged me deeper and deeper into my agony of alarm and terror. I did not take her words for what they meant. I went aside to draw terrifying inferences from her tone and the sound of her voice. She thought he would go, I concluded—perhaps she had heard already that marching orders had come—she thought that he would never come back again, if he did leave me. Anxiety and fear seized hold upon me so forcibly that I never stopped to{91} think that Mrs. Saltoun had no means of knowing, any more, or even so much as I knew, and that she could not possibly be better informed on this point than I was.

“And now tell me about your family, Mrs. Langham, my dear. I’ve come across half the folk in the country, I might venture to say, one time and another. I was on the continent for three years with my old gentleman,” said Mrs. Saltoun; “it’s just astonishing to say such a thing, but if you’ll believe me, a person gets better acquaint with their own country folk, that is, meaning the higher ranks o’ life, in foreign parts than at home. It’s maybe just a glance and away, that’s true; but them that has good memories minds.”

“And were you really abroad?” said I, feeling a little interested in spite of all my trouble; “and who was your old gentleman?—not——”

“No, no, nobody belonging to me. I had the charge of his house and his young family, that he had no business to have at his age; an auld fuil of a man that had married a young wife, and lost her, and was left, past seventy, with four young bairns. Mortimer? wasn’t that your name, my dear? Eh? I mind of a Miss Mortimer made a great steer among a’ the English one season; and among mair than the English by bad fortune. She was counted a great beauty; but I canna say she was like you.”

“No, indeed, not likely!” cried I.

“I would rather have your face than hers though,” said kind Mrs. Saltoun. “Bless me, now I think of it, that was a very strange story. There was a Count somebody that followed her about like her shadow. Except her beauty, I canna say I ever had much of an opinion of her. She was very heartless to her servants, and, for all the admirers she had, I think her greatest admirer was herself; but between you and me, my dear, men are great fools; she had ay a train after her. To be sure she was said to be a great fortune as well. I canna think but that poor Count was badly used. Counts are no a’ impostors, like what we think them here. He was a real handsome gentleman, that one. He was with her wherever she went for a year and more. Some folks said they were to be married, and more said they were married already. That was ay my opinion;—when, what do you think, all at once he disappeared from her, and for a while she flirted about more than ever; and then she went suddenly off and home with her father. I would like to hear the rights o’ that story. When a woman’s a witch,—and I canna think a great beauty without a{92} heart is onything else—most other women take a great interest in finding her out. Fools say it’s for envy; but it’s no for envy, my dear. You see beauty doesna blind a woman; we can ay see what’s going on underhand.”

“And what became of her?” said I.

“That is just what I never heard. That is the worst of meeting in with folk abroad; you see them once, and you, maybe, never see them a’ your days again,” said Mrs. Saltoun. “To be sure, you commonly hear of them, one way or other; but I never heard of the beautiful Miss Mortimer again. It’s five-and-twenty years ago, if it’s a day, and she was far from young then. That poor Count—I canna mind his name—was a good five years, if no more, younger than the witch that kept him at her call. I took a real spite against that woman; for you see she was just at the over-bloom, and yet took a’ the airs of a young queen. I wouldna wonder in the least but, after a’, she was married and wouldna own to it. There was nae heart in her.”

“But if she was married, how could she help herself?” said I.

“That is what I canna tell,” said Mrs. Saltoun; “there’s wheels within wheels, especially in foreign parts. Maybe the Count wasna a grand enough match, maybe—I canna tell you; it’s a’ guess-work; but I am very sure of one thing, that she was not an innocent woman, with nothing on her conscience when she went away.”

“I hope she is no relation of mine,” said I. “Harry has found out that I had a grandfather, and all about him. Oh, only suppose, Mrs. Saltoun, this dreadful beauty should turn out to be my aunt! That would be delightful!” I said to myself after a while, with a kind of bitter satisfaction; “not to live in the red-brick house alone, but to live with a dreadful old beauty who would be sure to be haunted. That would be purgatory, enough, to please anybody; and Mortimer is not at all a common name.”

My old lady looked up at me half frightened. “Don’t say such a thing, Mrs. Langham, my dear. I would not say a word against any person’s character, far less one that might turn out a relation of yours. But, for all that I’ve no right to interfere, I would set my face against the like of you setting up house with ony such person. I would speak to the Captain mysel’. Hout! here I’m taking’t up as if it was true; but if it should be so that, in the order of Providence, the Captain was to go, you mustna take up just with ony relation without{93} considering if they would make ye happy. You must be careful where you go—you must——”

“Happy?” cried I. It seemed like mockery and a kind of insult;—as if I could be happy when Harry, perhaps, was in danger, perhaps wounded or ill, in suffering, and away from me!

“Whisht, whisht,” said Mrs. Saltoun. “I ken ye better than ye ken yourself. It’ll be hard, hard work at first; but when the parting’s over you’ll get hopeful, and think o’ the meeting again; and ye’ll ay get letters to cheer ye; and with the baby and the sun shining you’ll be happy before you ken. But I maunna have ye settled down with the like of yon Miss Mortimer. Na! na! naething like that, if she were twenty times an aunt. Far better stay on still with me, that would ay be coming and going to cheer you up. Yon’s a woman without a heart. I must speak to the Captain mysel’.”

Though I was much nearer crying that being amused, I could not but laugh at Mrs. Saltoun’s anxiety about her Miss Mortimer, whom there was not the very slightest reason to suppose any relation of mine. I took up the idea myself, I must say, with quite a ludicrous sort of uncomfortable satisfaction. If I had a grandfather, why should not I have an aunt? Why should there not be an old Miss Mortimer living in the red-brick house, ready to take me in, and kill me slowly by degrees? I formed an immediate picture of her—how she would look, and what she would say to me. I fancied her dressed up in her old fashions, trying to look young and a beauty still. How dreadful it must be to drop from being a great beauty, and having everybody worship you, down to a mere old woman left all by yourself! Poor old Miss Mortimer! If she was my aunt, and was very cross, and discontented, and miserable, there might be something different in the old red-brick house, that quiet, dead comfortable home that poor Harry, in his love and kindness, was so anxious to find for me. There would be some satisfaction in living a miserable life with an ogre in an enchanted castle if Harry were away. Mrs. Saltoun’s words did not alarm me; on the contrary, I grew quite curious about this imaginary Miss Mortimer. I thought I could fancy her going about those faded rooms which yesterday I fancied seeing myself in. Now it was her figure I saw all alone by the fire. Had she got used to it, I wonder? or did she chafe and beat her poor old wings against the cage, and hate the world that had given over admiring her? I tried to spell out what kind of a beauty she had been; but it was{94} always twilight in the old-fashioned room. Tall, to be sure, with grey hair that had been black, and proud eyes all wrinkled up in their sockets. Poor old Miss Mortimer! I wonder did she know that she had an orphan niece who was to be sent to her for a comfortable home? Couldn’t I look again, and see myself come in, and how she greeted me? I think I must have grown quite fantastic in my troubles. I could not keep my thoughts away from Mrs. Saltoun’s great beauty. All alone in the house that was falling into decay, what ghosts must crowd about her! Did she see the Count she had ill-used oftenest, or some other who was more favoured? How did she keep these phantoms off from her in the silence? I kept going over all this as other girls go over imaginary romances of their own; I knew what my own romance was; but still I was only nineteen, and loved to dream.

And, perhaps, the consequence of this new turn to my thoughts was, that I was more tolerant of Harry’s curiosity and anxious musing about my father’s family, which had been revealed to him in that strange, unexpected glimpse by Mr. Pendleton, the regimental doctor. I did not stop him nervously when he began to talk of that favourite subject of his thoughts. He was always coming back to it somehow. I could trace the idea running through all he said. Not fancy and nonsensical imaginations like mine; but serious, simple-minded anxiety, and an earnest concern about the matter which would have broken my heart, had I not begun to get used to it now. There was nothing talked about or heard of but the war and the quantities of soldiers who were being sent away. Harry had no other expectation or hope but to go too, and all his thought was, to find a shelter for me. I could see it haunted his mind constantly, and at last I gave in to it, that he might be eased on the subject. I used to discuss it over with him where I should go—oh, only to go like Lady Fanshawe, and be beside him, though he did not know! That was impossible; so I let him talk, and smiled the best I could. Soon enough, perhaps, we should have land and sea between us. Let him say what he would. Let him arrange what he would. If it was a comfort to him, what did it matter? The old brick house and Miss Mortimer would be better than the happiest of homes. Who could wish to be happy while Harry was away.{95}

Chapter XII.

ONE day after this Harry came in with a letter in his hand.

“Here is news, Milly, darling; not such news as we expected, but still news,” said he; “this is not how you are to become a great heiress, certainly; but still it’s interesting. It turns out, after, all, that your grandfather was not rich.”

“Oh! is it Mr. Pendleton’s letter?” said I.

“Pendleton’s brother has something to do with it,” said Harry, with a little excitement; “there was not much money—not any more than enough to pay the debts and give some presents to the old servants—but there is the house. They had no funds to employ in looking up the heir, and nobody cared to take much trouble. So there it stands falling to pieces. Look here, Milly; it’s yours, indisputably yours.”

“But how about Miss Mortimer?” cried I.

Harry stopped short all at once as he was opening the letter, and stared at me. “Miss Mortimer! who is she?” he said, in the most entire amazement. He might well look surprised: but I had so entirely made up my mind about her, and that she was living in the old house, that his question was quite a shock to me.

“Why, Miss Mortimer, to be sure,” I said, faltering a little; and then I could not help laughing at Harry’s astonished face.

“It appears that you know more than Mr. Pendleton does, Milly,” said he; “there is no Miss Mortimer here. I suppose you are only amusing yourself at my expense: but I really am quite in earnest. Mr. Mortimer’s house is entirely yours. He had no child but your father; you are the heir-at-law. I only wish there had been a Miss Mortimer. You may look displeased, Milly darling; but think if there had been a good old lady to take care of you while I’m away!”

“Oh, Harry, you don’t know what you are saying,” cried I; “that Miss Mortimer was an old witch and beauty. Mrs. Saltoun told me that if she should turn out to be a relation of mine, she would speak to you herself, to say that I must not on any account go there.”

“Go where? What Miss Mortimer are you speaking of?” said Harry, completely mystified.{96}

Then I had to confess that I knew nothing of her, and it was all imagination; and Harry shook it off quite lightly, and went on to talk of this house. As if I ever could, after all my fancies, put Miss Mortimer out of that house! As if she had not taken possession, a wonderful old ghost, always to live and reign there! And, moreover, my heart got quite chill within me as Harry spoke. This was my bad omen; this was the sign I had appointed with myself for the coming of every trouble. I got so pale, listening to him, that he was disturbed, and grew quite anxious. Was I ill? What was the matter with me? I said No, with a gasp, and let him go on. He read out of the letter all the description of this dreadful house; but I am sure I did not need any description. I saw it as clear as a picture; large rooms, to be sure, with great faded Turkey carpets on them! a low broad staircase, with myself coming down on the post-morning wringing my hands, and Miss Mortimer sitting all silent by the fire; a large old garden with mossy apple-trees, and a sun-dial somewhere about, some dozen bedrooms or so, all hushed and solemn, as if people had died there. I am not sure that I heard the words of Harry’s description; for what was she good? I saw it perfectly well in my mind, far clearer than I ever could have known it by words.

“And Harry,” cried I, with a start of despair, when he came to a pause, “would you really have me go to live in such a place—a place I never was in in all my life—a place I have no kind feeling about, nor pleasant thoughts—only because it was my grandfather’s house, whom I never saw, and who never cared to see me? I did not think you could have been so cruel. Besides, it would be far too expensive. Servants would have to be kept for it; and you must make up your mind that it would kill me.”

“But it might sell for a good price,” said Harry, “and I might get you a pretty cottage, where you pleased, with the money. I am going to write to old Pendleton to tell him who you are and all about it. You have had your own way with your first bit of fortune; but I should not at all wonder, Milly darling,” he said, laughing, “if you were to offer it, rent free, to your Aunt Connor, that she might find it a very eligible situation. After such a description, Mrs. Connor is not the woman to despise the red-brick house.”

“She might have it altogether, and welcome, for me,” said I. “Oh, Harry, I can’t help thinking it’s an ill omened place. I could never be happy there.”

“Who ever heard of an ill omen now-a-days?” said Harry,{97} “it’s a pagan fancy, Milly. For my part the idea rather captivates me. I should like to live in the house my good father was born in. My bridegroom uncle has it now. Don’t you think I had better write and tell him my little wife is an heiress? However, perhaps the best thing will be to try and sell the house.”

“Oh, much the best thing!” I said. That would be getting rid of it, at all events; and as Harry would not leave off talking of it, I persuaded him with all my might to get done with it so. We were both quite confident that we had only to say who we were and get it without any trouble. That, of course, was all very natural in me that knew nothing about things, but Harry might have known better. He was quite pleased and interested about it. I think he never was quite satisfied not to know who I belonged to; but now that he had hunted up my grandfather, he was quite comforted. And how he did talk of the pretty cottage he was to buy me! Sometimes it was to be in England, in his own county; which he naturally liked best of all places; sometimes near Edinburgh, where we were, because I was fond of it. Sometimes we took walks and looked at all the pretty little houses we could see. He had planned it out in his own mind, all the rooms it was to have, and used to study the upholsterer’s windows, and take me ever so far out of my way to see some pretty table or chair that had taken his fancy. He said if he could only see me settled, and know exactly what I was looking at, and all the things round me, it would be such a comfort when he went away.

This going away was kept so constantly before my mind that I could not forget it for a moment. I lived in a constant state of nervous expectation. Every day when he came in I went to meet him with a pang of fear in my heart. Such constant anxiety would have made a woman ill who had nothing to do; but I was full in the stream of life, and one thing counterbalanced another, and kept everything going. That must be the reason why people do get strength to bear so many things when they are in the midst of life. Young disengaged people would die of half the troubles that middle-aged, hard-labouring people have; but I had a daily dread returning every time Harry returned, and with a shiver of inexpressible relief put off my anxiety to the next day, when I found there was no news. All the evils of life seemed to crowd into that one possibility of Harry’s going away. It was not that I feared any positive harm coming to him, or had made up my mind that he{98} would not come back again; it was the sudden extinction of our bright troubled life that I looked forward to, the going out of our happiness. I did not seem to care where I should be, or what might happen after that time.

In the meantime Harry grew quite a man of business, and entered with something like enjoyment, I thought, into the pursuit of my grandfather’s house. He wrote to Aunt Connor for all the information that could be had about my father, and for the register of his marriage and my birth. He wrote a long letter to that Mr. Pendleton at Haworth, who had, as he said, something to do with it; and old Pendleton, the surgeon, came out to see me, and told me all he remembered about my father. That was not very much; the principal thing was, that he had heard of poor papa being jilted by a relation of his own, a great heiress—in Wales, he thought, but he could not tell where. Of course that must have been Sarah, in poor papa’s drawing, who was getting on the wrong side of her horse; and “he never did any more good,” Mr. Pendleton said. He lingered about at home for some time, and then went wandering about everywhere. He had a little money from his mother, just enough to keep him from being obliged to do anything; and the old surgeon burst out into an outcry about the evils of a little money, which quite frightened me. “When silly people leave a young man just as much as he can live on, they ruin him for life,” said old Mr. Pendleton. “Unless he’s a great genius there’s an end of him. Richard Mortimer, begging your pardon, was not a great genius, Mrs. Langham; but he might have been a good enough soldier, or doctor, or solicitor, or something; or a cotton-spinner, as his name inclined that way,—if it hadn’t been for his little bit of money. Langham, my boy, either have a great fortune or none at all; it will be all the better for your heir.”

“We’ll have a great fortune,” said Harry. “The first step must be to sell this red-brick house.”

Mr. Pendleton gave him an odd look. “There’s a saying about catching the hare first before you cook it,” said the doctor. “Make yourself quite sure they’ll give you a deal of trouble before they’ll let you take possession; and then there’s no end of money wanted for repairs. The last time I saw it, there was a hole that a man could pass through in the roof.”

Harry looked aghast at this new piece of information; nothing that I ever saw had such an effect upon Harry’s courage. He gazed with open eyes and mouth at the disenchanter {99}for a moment. I do think he could see the rain dropping in, and the wind blowing, and damp and decay spreading through the house just as clearly as I saw Miss Mortimer sitting by the fire, and myself going down the stairs. After that I used to think Harry was thinking of the house, whenever it rained much. He used to sigh, and look so grave, and say solemn things about the wet weather destroying property. And I cannot deny that I laughed. Altogether, this house kept us in talk and interest, and did a good deal to amuse us through this winter, which, without something to lighten it, would have passed very slowly, being so full of perpetual anxiety and fears.

Chapter XIII.

IT was in spring that Harry came in one day with the news in his face; at least I thought it was the news. Heaven help me!—I came forward with my hands clasped, struck speechless by the thought, my limbs trembling under me so that I could scarcely stand. I suppose Harry was struck by my dumb agony. My ears, that were strained to hear the one only thing in the world that I was afraid of, devoured, without being satisfied, the soothing words he said to me. I gasped at him, asking, I suppose, without any sound, to know the worst; and he told me at once, in pity for my desperate face.

“No such thing, Milly darling. No, no; not to the war just yet. We are only to leave Edinburgh, nothing more.”

I think I almost fainted at this reprieve; I could scarcely understand it. The certainty of the other was so clear upon my mind that I almost could have thought he deceived me. I sank down into a seat when I came to myself, and cried in my weakness like a child; Harry all the while wondering over me in a surprise of love and pity. I do not think he quite knew till then how much that terror had gone to my heart.

“No, Milly, darling,” he kept repeating, looking at me{100} always with a strange compassion, as if he knew that the grief I was dreading must come, though not yet; “take comfort, it has not come yet; and before it comes you must be stronger, and able to bear what God sends.”

“Yes, yes, yes, I will bear it,” said I, under my breath, “but say again it is not to be now.”

“No, we are going away to Chester,” said Harry, “be satisfied, I will not try to cheat you when that time comes. We are to go to Chester to let some other fellows away. Now you must pack again and be going, Milly, like a true soldier’s wife.”

Ah, me! if that were all that was needful for a soldier’s wife! Somehow, all that night after, I felt lighter in my heart than usual. I had felt all this time as if the sword was hanging over my head; but now that we were sent out wandering again, the danger seemed to have faded further off. Nobody would take the trouble to send a regiment from one end of the country to the other, and then send them right away. If they had been going to the war, they would have gone direct from Edinburgh. It was a respite, a little additional life granted to us. I sang my old songs that night, as I went about the room. I could dare laugh to baby, and dance him about. How he was growing, the dear fellow! He set his little pink feet firm on my hand, and could stand upright. I showed Harry all his accomplishments, and rejoiced over them. How thankful and lighthearted I was, to be sure, that night! Harry kept watching me, following me with his eyes in the strangest, amused, sympathetic way. He was surprised to see the agony I was in at first; but he was still more surprised to see how easily, as one might have said, I got over it now.

“And, Milly, what is to be done with the sprite?” said Harry.

“Lizzie? what should be done with her? She is an orphan, she has nobody belonging to her, she has taken shelter with me. Harry, no; we’re poor, but we’re not free to think of ourselves alone. Lizzie shall go too. She is God’s child, and He sent her to me.”

Harry did not say anything, but he kept slowly shaking his head and drumming upon the table. Harry had the common people’s ideas rather about responsibility. He was afraid of the responsibility. For all the kindness in his heart he did not like to step into what might be other people’s business, or to take up any burdens that did not lie in his way.

“Besides, she is the best servant in the world. She is{101} worth all Aunt Connor’s three maids. I can trust her with baby almost as well as I can trust myself; and, besides,” said I, rather hypocritically, “look at the creature’s laundry work; you never were so pleased before.”

“Well, that is rather astonishing, I confess,” said Harry, looking at his fresh wristband with a little admiration. “I don’t believe those awkward red fingers ever did it. She must keep some private fairy in a box, or have made an agreement with a nameless personage. What if poor Lizzie’s soul were in danger on account of your fine linen, you hard-hearted Milly! I do not believe you would care.”

“Ah! you can’t deny her talents in the laundry,” cried I, with a little injudicious laughter. “What a triumph that is! You never were content with anybody’s work before.”

Harry looked at me rather doubtfully. “You look very much as if you were a little cheat,” he said. “I’ll have a peep into the laundry one of these days myself.”

“But Lizzie must go with us,” said I. “I have taken very much to the strange creature. You and I are God’s orphans too. We have a right to be good to her; and it is not all on one side—don’t think it, Harry; she is very good to me. She helps me with all her might, and stands by me whenever I want, or tries to do it. I had rather have her than half-a-dozen common servants. Leave this to me.”

“But consider, Milly, what you are making yourself responsible for,” cried Harry.

I stopped his mouth; I would not let him speak; and danced away with baby all in my joy and comfort to put him to bed. We met Mrs. Saltoun on the stairs in the dark, and as she kissed the child, I kissed my good old lady out of the fulness of my heart. “We are going away, but it is only to Chester; we shall be together still,” I said in her ear. I never thought how strange she would think it that I should be pleased to leave her, or how she might wonder at my spirits getting up so easily. I was very happy that night.

Lizzie was putting all baby’s things away when I went into the room. She folded and laid them all aside more nicely than I could have done it myself; not, so far as I know, because orderliness came natural to her, but because, with all her heart, she had wanted to please me, and saw with her quick eyes how it was to be done best. When anybody looked at Lizzie, and she knew it, she was just as awkward as ever. How I had laboured to make her hands and her feet look as if they belonged to her, without twisting up or going into angles! but{102} it was all of no use. Whenever anybody looked at Lizzie, she would stand on one foot, and seek refuge of an imaginary pinafore for her hands; but just now, in the firelight, when you could only half see her, you cannot think how tidily and nicely the uncouth creature was going about her work.

I paused before the fire after the child was in bed. “Lizzie,” said I, standing in the warm light, and looking down into it, “do you like Edinburgh very much?” I did not look round for her answer, I waited till she should come to me; and yet felt pleased to see her, with “the tail of my eye,” as Mrs. Saltoun would have said, flitting about after one thing and another, through the pleasant darkness, with the firelight all glimmering and shooting gleams of reflection into it, shining in the drawers, and chairs, and furniture, which Lizzie’s hands had rubbed so bright. I could not help thinking, with a little pride and self-complacency, that it was all my doing. If I had not taught her, and taken pains with her—but then, to be sure, if she had not been wonderfully clever and capable; the one thing had just as much to do with it as the other. But, between her exertions and my own, I had been very successful in my little maid.

“Edinburey?” said Lizzie, coming up to me, with a lingering sound in that genuine Edinburgh tone of hers, “eh, mem, isn’t it rael bonnie? They say there’s no such another bonnie town in the world.”

“But there are, though,” said I; “they say quantities of foolish things. Lizzie, the regiment is ordered away.”

Lizzie clasped her hands together, and gave a shrill shriek. “I’ll waken the wean, but I canna help it. Eh, what will we do?” cried Lizzie, in a voice of suppressed and sharp despair. “I heard you say once you would die, and if you die, so will the bairn, and so will I; and what heart would the Captain have to come hame again? He would throw himself upon the spears, the way they do in the ballads, and get his death. Mem!” cried the excited girl, seizing my arm and stamping her foot upon the floor in an impassioned appeal to my weakness, “if ye dinna bide alive, and keep up your heart, he’ll never come hame!”

I cannot explain what an extraordinary effect this had upon me. The sudden flush of excitement and desperate necessity for doing something to inspire and hold up my weakness, which animated Lizzie, cast a new light upon myself and my selfish terror. She cared nothing about affronting or offending me, the brave primitive creature; she thought only of rousing, pricking me up to exert what strength I had. Her grasp on{103} my arm, her stamp on the floor, were nature’s own bold suggestions to arrest the evil she dreaded. I should not give way, or break down—I should not send away my soldier unworthily, nor peril the life on which another hung, if Lizzie could help it. What I had escaped for the moment—what I should have to go through with by and by, came all up before me at her words. She whom I was proud of having trained for my service had a braver heart than me.

But when I could explain to her the real nature of the case our position changed immediately. Lizzie’s countenance fell; she hung her head, and relapsed into all her old awkwardness. It was neither the bold young soul, resolved, come what might, to inspire me with needful courage, nor the handy little maid busied with her work, but the old uncouth Lizzie, not knowing how to stand or look for extreme awkwardness and eagerness, that stood gazing wistful at me in the firelight. She stood with her lips apart, looking at me, breathless with silent anxiety, muttering as she stood, with an incessant nervous unconscious motion, the physical utterance of extreme anxiety. She made no appeal to me then; but, like a faithful dog, or dumb creature, kept gazing in my face.

“And so we shall have to go away,” said I, somewhat confused by her eyes; “and you are an Edinburgh girl, and people know you here. I could recommend you very well, and you might get a better place; you must think it all over, and decide what we must do.”

Lizzie’s face showed that she only understood me by degrees; that she should have any choice in the matter not seeming to have occurred to her. When she fairly made it out, she gave a joyful shout, and another little cry; but plunged me into the wildest amazement, the moment after, by the following question, in which I could find no connection whatever with the subject under hand.

“Mem,” said Lizzie, “is a’ the Bible true alike—the auld Testament as weel as the New?”

“Surely,” said I, in the most utter surprise.

“Then I know what I’ll do,” cried the girl; “I’ll bring you a hammer and a nail, and you’ll drive it into the doorpost through my ear.”

“What in the world do you mean, child?” cried I,—“are you laughing at me, Lizzie? or is the girl crazed.”

“Me laughing? if you would do it I would greet with joy; for the Bible says them that have the nail driven through, never gang out ony mair for ever, but belong to the house.{104} Mrs. Saltoun mightna be pleased if it was done in the parlour, but down at the outer door it might be nae harm. Eh, mem, will ye ask the Captain?” cried Lizzie, “and then I’ll never leave ye mair!”

Just then Harry called me downstairs, and all laughing, and with tears in my eyes, I hurried down to him, not knowing whether to be most amused or melted.

Harry had something to consult me about, which he plunged into immediately, so that I had still had no opportunity of propounding Lizzie’s petition, when, all at once, about an hour after, she made her appearance at the door. I never saw the creature look so bright; her eyes were shining, her colour high, her breath coming quick with agitation, excitement, and a mingled thrill of joy and terror. In one hand she carried Mrs. Saltoun’s great hammer, in another a rusty iron nail; and her resolution had removed at once her awkwardness and her reverential dread of Harry. She came up to him with a noiseless air of excitement, and touched him on the sleeve; she held out the hammer and the nail without being able to speak a word. He, on his side, looked at her with the utmost amazement. Lizzie was too much excited to explain herself, or even to remark his astonished look; she had come to prove her allegiance in the only way that occurred to her. I believe, in my heart, that she longed for the grotesque extraordinary pang which was to make her my bondslave for ever; the spirit of a martyr was in the child’s heart.

When Harry understood the creature’s meaning you may imagine what a scene followed. I had to send Lizzie away lest her highly-wrought feelings should be driven desperate, by the agonies of laughter it threw him into. I took her outside the door and put away the hammer, and gave her a kiss in the dark. I whispered in her ear, “That shall be our bond, Lizzie; we will take it out of the New Testament rather than the Old,” and left her sitting on the stairs, with her apron thrown over her head, crying her heart out. No one, from that day forward, has ever spoken of leaving Lizzie behind again.{105}



Chapter I.

I CANNOT tell what it was that made me silent about this adventure while we were having tea. My mind was naturally full of it, but when, having the words just on my lips, I looked at Sarah, some strange influence held me back. That reluctance to speak of a matter which will turn out painful to somebody I have felt come across me like a sort of warning more than once in my life; and this time it was so powerful, that during our meal I said nothing whatever about the matter. You are not to suppose, though, that I was so good a dissembler as not to show that I had something on my mind. Little Sara found me out in a moment. She said, “What are you thinking of, godmamma?” before we had been two minutes at table, and persecuted me the whole time,—finding out whenever I made any little mistake; and, indeed, I made several, my mind being so much occupied. Sarah, on the contrary, took no notice; she seemed, indeed, to have recovered herself a good deal, and had a very good appetite. She never talked much at any time, and had said less than usual since ever little Sara arrived. So what with my abstraction and Sarah’s quiet occupation with herself, there was not much talk, you may suppose. Little Sara Cresswell’s eyes, however, quite danced with mischief when she saw me so deep in thought. She kept asking me all sorts of questions; whether there was any bit of the road haunted between{106} the Park and the village? whether I had got some sermons from the rector to read? whether Dr. Appleby had been trying some of his new medicines (the doctor was certainly too much given to experiments) upon me? whether I had met anybody to frighten me? Tea was all but finished, and I had just rung the bell, when the little plague asked this last question; and you may imagine I was quite as much inclined to tell all my story as Sara was to draw me out.

“Now I’ll just tell you what I think has happened, godmamma,” cried Sara. “One of your old lovers has appeared to you, and told you that, but for you, he might have been a happy man; and that all his troubles began when you refused him. Now haven’t I guessed right?”

“Right? Why, I have told you a dozen times, Sara, that I never had any lovers,” said I,—“not till I was forty, at least.”

“But that is no answer at all,” cried the little puss. “And the poor man might die for you, when you were forty, all the same. Was it himself, quite pined away and heart-broken, that you saw, godmamma, or was it his ghost?”

“Hush, you little provoking thing,” said I; “you and I had a quarrel about an Italian the other evening. Now I know a deal better about him than you do, Sara. He is all the ghost I met.”

I gave a glance at Sarah, sidelong, as I spoke. I am sure what I said was light enough, and not very serious, but her ear had caught it; it was a sign to me that she was still as much on the watch as ever. She did not speak, nor lift up her head, except with a little momentary start, but she stopped knitting, which was something extraordinary to me.

And little Sara flushed up; whether it was with the recollection of our quarrel, or a private interest of her own in the young stranger, who, to be sure, being a handsome young man, and mysterious, and romantic, was quite likely to excite a foolish young imagination, I cannot tell; but her cheeks certainly reddened up at a great rate, and she looked exactly as if she were ready to pounce and bite, what between curiosity and wrath.

“I met him on the road; it is my belief he passed the gate the other evening when I was looking out. Poor young man! he speaks very good English for an Italian,” said I.

Then Sarah’s whisper interfered and stopped me; she spoke very sharply. “Who are you speaking of?” she said; “there are no Italians here.”

“There is one,” said I; “poor fellow. Little Sara there{107} knows about him. It appears he came expecting to find a lady hereabouts, and can’t find her. I can’t think on the name myself; I never heard it that I know of; but I must allow that the young man looks like a gentleman; and for an Italian——”

“Be silent, Milly! What can a person like you know?” said Sarah, in an irritated shrill tone. “They’re a double-minded, deceitful, intriguing race; they’re vile story-tellers, every one; they’re a people no more fit to be considered like other Christians than dogs are, or slaves. Bah! What do you mean talking to me of Italians? None of you are the least aware of what you are speaking of. I know them well.”

Here little Sara struck boldly into the breach, and saved me from the necessity of struggling out an answer.

“Godmamma, you are frightfully unjust!” cried little Sara. “I wonder how you can speak of a whole people so; and such a people! as if everybody in the world did not know who they are, and what they have done!”

“They have done every kind of fraud and falsehood in existence,” said Sarah, so earnest that her voice sounded like a sort of smothered shriek. “I tell you, child, whoever trusts or believes in them gets deceived and betrayed. Don’t speak to me of Italians—I know them; and if any Italian comes here pretending to ask anything,” she said, suddenly turning round upon me, and catching at me, if I may say so, with her eye, “mind you, Milly, it’s a cheat! I say, recollect it’s a cheat! He does not want any living creature; he wants money, and profit, and what you have to give.”

If she had said all this quietly, and there had been nothing beforehand to rouse my attention, I should not have been surprised; for to be sure, that was very much like what I had always believed; and as for lying, and seeking their own advantage, I rather think that is just about what an English person, who knows no better, thinks of most foreigners, right or wrong. But Sarah’s way of speaking was breathless and excited. She was no more thinking of Italians in general than I was, or than little Sara was. She was thinking on some one thing, and some one person; she alone knew who and what. All her anger, and her quickness, and her dreadful look of being in earnest, were personal to herself; and I cannot describe to anybody how my sister’s unexplainable anxiety and excitement bewildered and excited me.

“But, Sarah, you don’t know anything of this poor friend{108} man; he may be as honest as ever was. I do believe he is, for my part,” said I; “and what he wants is——”

“Don’t tell me!” cried Sarah. “I don’t want to hear what he wants. How should I know anything about him? Hold your tongue, Milly, I tell you. What! you go and take a fancy to a young villain and impostor, and neglect me!”

“Neglect you! but, dear, not for the poor young Italian gentleman’s sake; you can’t think that!” said I, more and more amazed.

“You all neglect me!” said Sarah, throwing down her knitting, and rising up in her passion. “I don’t want to hear of reasons or causes. You are not to tell me what young impostors you may fish up in the streets, or what ridiculous things your protégés may want. Don’t say anything to me, I tell you! I desire to hear nothing about it. Make up what pretty romance you please, you are quite fit to do it; but I clear my hands of all such matters—you shall not even tell them to me!”

And as she said this,—could I believe my eyes?—Sarah thrust her footstool out of the way, pushed back her screen, and making a momentary pause to search round all the dim depths of the room with her eyes, went out, leaving us two, Sara and me, staring at each other. What had affronted her? What could be the cause of her displeasure. She left her knitting thrown down into the basket, and the Times lying on the chair beside her seat. Nobody had done or said anything to displease her, unless my mention of the young Italian had done it. What strange secret irritation could be working in her, to produce these outbursts of passion without any cause?

Little Sara stared at me with her bright eyes wide open, till Sarah had quite gone out of the room; then the wicked little creature, struck, I suppose, with something comic in my blank distressed look, burst out laughing. I cannot tell you how the sound of her laugh, thoughtless as she was, jarred upon me.

“Is this how you live so amicably at the Park, godmamma?” cried Sara. “The people say you have the temper of an angel, and that nobody else could live with godmamma Sarah. I never believed it was true till now. You have the temper of an angel, godmamma. You forgave me the other night when I was so naughty; you kissed me, though I did not expect you would. And now here you have been kind to poor Italian Mr. Luigi, and you have got paid for it. What have the Italians done to godmamma Sarah to make her so savage at their very name?”{109}

“Ah! that is the question—what is it?” said I. “God knows!”

“Then you don’t know?” said little Sara. “Yet I could have thought you did, you looked so.”

“How did I look?” cried I.

“As if there were a secret somewhere; as if you were thinking how godmamma Sarah would take it; as if you were—well, just watching her a little, and trying to see whether she cared,” said the observant little girl.

“Was I, indeed? was I so? Ah! I deserve to be punished. What right have I to go and dream over anybody’s looks and frame romances, as she says? Heaven forgive me! I’ll go and beg her pardon. I did not mean to do it. To think I should be so mean and suspicious! Little Sara, let me go.”

Sara held me fast, clinging with her arms round my waist—and her provoking little face the little witch turned up close to mine. “Tell me first what the romance was, godmamma?” said Sara. “She accused you of it, and you confess; and I am sure a romance is far more in my way than yours. Tell me, please, this very moment, what romance you are making up? Has Mr. Luigi anything to do with it? Is it all about godmamma Sarah? Tell me directly, or I don’t know what I shall do. Sit down in this great chair, and begin—romance of real life.”

“Ah, you foolish little girl! there’s many a romance of real life you durst not listen to, and I durst not tell you,” cried I. “I am not making up any romance. Nonsense! Child, get up. I’ll tell you about your Mr. Luigi, which is the only story in my head. He is looking for a lady; but that you know——”

“Oh yes, and he can’t find her; the Countess Sermoneta,” said Sara, in her careless way.

Just then, to my still greater wonder, Sarah returned to the room. Evidently she had heard the child’s words. I saw her come to a dead stop in the shadow close by the door, and put her hand upon her side, as if she were out of breath and had to recover herself. What did this strange flitting about mean? In her usual way she never moved from her seat, except to go to dinner. Her going away was extraordinary, and her coming back more extraordinary still. I could but gaze at her in amazement as she came slowly up, threading through the furniture in the half light. But Sara, who had still her arms clasped round me, had of course her back to her godmamma, and did not see that she had come back to the room.

“Wasn’t it the Countess Sermoneta?” said Sara, “I know{110} he was asking all over Chester for such a person, and was so disappointed. Did you never hear of a Countess Sermoneta, godmamma? If you heard it once you surely would remember the name.”

Sarah had stopped again while the girl was speaking. Could she have been running up and downstairs that her breath came so quick, and she had to make such pauses to recover herself? I could not answer Sara for watching my sister, feeling somehow fascinated; but then, remembering that Sara had detected me in anxious observation of her godmother, I hurried on with the conversation to avoid any suspicion of that.

“That is just what I told the young man, my dear child—that I never had heard the name,” said I; “but I promised to try all I could to get some news for him. It is very sad he should be disappointed, poor young fellow. I promised to ask Ellis, who has been centuries with the Mortimers, you know; and I thought, perhaps, your godmamma and I, if we had a talk together, might recollect somebody that married a foreigner——”

Here I made a dead pause in spite of myself. Sarah had somehow managed to get back into her seat. She was wonderfully pale and haggard, and looked like a different creature. She looked to me as if all her powers were strained for some purpose, and that at any moment the pressure might be too much, and she might give way under it. I could not go on; I stopped short all at once, with a feeling that somehow I had been cruel. “Not to-night,” I said softly to Sara, “another time.” Sara was obedient for a miracle. We broke off the conversation just at that point, with an uneasy feeling among us that it had been far more interesting and exciting than it ought to have been; and that the best thing to be done was to bury it up, and conceal what we had been talking about. Such was the immediate result of my easy promise to consult my sister. Sarah sat very steadily through all that evening, remaining up even later than usual. She took no notice of anything that was said, nor mentioned why she went away. We were all very quiet, and had little to say for ourselves. What was this forbidden ground?{111}

Chapter II.

IT is very odd, when there happens to be any one bit of tabooed ground in a family, how impossible it is to keep off it. I daresay every member of a household, above childhood, knows that, more or less. If there is one matter that some two people are quite sure to disagree upon, whom it is quite the business of your life to keep comfortable and on good terms, isn’t that matter always turning up somehow? Doesn’t it float about in the air, and hover over your head, always ready to poke in when it is not wanted, and do what mischief it can? That is my experience, at least. And it was so much the worse in our case, because little Sara had no idea of keeping quiet, and no notion that her innocent mischief and meddling could do any real harm, or have any worse effect than putting her godmamma “in a passion.” Putting people in a passion was fun to the thoughtless little girl; it never came into her little saucy inconsiderate head that Sarah’s passion was not a flash of harmless lightning like her own, or that it meant anything which could disturb and overturn all my sister’s quiet life, and put me into a fever of bewilderment and anxiety. For days after I kept carefully off the subject, thinking it would be better to leave a polite message with Ellis for the Italian young gentleman if he called, and say I was sorry I could not get him any information, than to worry my poor sister, who was so unaccountably disturbed by hearing of him. Not that Sarah said anything about it; but she looked so haggard and anxious that it went to my heart. She came down even earlier than usual and sat up later; listened eagerly to all the conversation going on; sometimes, even, missed her drive; sat on the watch, as one might have supposed; but when she had gone out for her airing one day, I met the carriage,—and, can you believe it, the very blinds were down! If, when all was quiet, and nothing had happened, I used to wonder sometimes what sort of life she had led when she was younger, what friends she might have had, and what was her history when she was abroad, you may fancy how busy my mind was on that subject now.

The more I thought it over, of course, the more I could make nothing of it. And what do you think at last was the conclusion I came to? That Sarah, being a great beauty, and{112} always accustomed to admiration and almost a kind of worship, had forgotten, poor dear soul, that Time had changed all that, and that she was an old woman; and that she imagined the Italian we talked of, to be one of her old lovers come here to look for her, and was quite frightened he should see her, and know she was at the Park, and disturb us all with his raptures and passions. After turning it over for days and days, that was the very best explanation I could come to. Why she should be so tragical about it, to be sure, I could not tell. Perhaps she thought the story of all her old gay doings, if they were to come to my ears, would not sound just what a quiet old maid like me would approve of. Possibly, it might be somebody she had jilted that she was frightened to see; perhaps she was afraid of that Italian revenge one reads of in books. I do suppose people are still stabbed out of jealousy and revenge in Italy; and everybody carries a stiletto about him. If that was what Sarah thought of, no wonder she was frightened, poor dear. And I must say it quite went to my heart to see her so anxious and unsettled, watching every word that was said, and turning her keen eyes towards me—for she would not yield to change her seat, so that she might see for herself who came in—every time the door was opened, to know who it was by my face; and, above all, going out that dreary drive with the carriage blinds down, carrying all her dismal thoughts with her! If she would only have confidence in me, what a difference it would make! I could very soon have relieved her mind about it, I am sure. What was it to me if she had been very gay and foolish when she was young? that was all over, and she was my very own sister. To think that I should stand upon my dignity, or blame Sarah for anything that was past. But then she was so proud! she always was so proud! she would never own to being less than perfect. The best thing was to disabuse her mind, if possible, and to make it evident that this Italian was a young man, far too young ever to have been a lover of Sarah’s. A lover! why, she might have been his mother as far as age was concerned—and that he was seeking, quite openly, an entirely different person. If I had been a courageous woman I should have gone through with my story the first night, and most likely saved my poor sister a great deal of unnecessary anxiety. But I never was brave at going into disagreeable conversation. I can’t say I ever was clever at conversation at all. And when a person runs away with a mistaken idea, and you can’t manage to get it out of her head, and the further you go the worse it becomes, what{113} can you do? I tried to nerve myself up to going into it, but I could not. Whatever it was, it made her vastly uncomfortable, that was evident; and really when Sarah gets into her passions there is no reasoning with her, and I get flustered immediately, and she won’t listen to explanations. So on the whole I never had a more troublesome piece of business on my hands.

As for little Sara Cresswell, she was the greatest tease and plague that ever was in a house. She worried me morning and night about the romance I was making up, and did not hesitate the least to carry on her persecution before Sarah, who looked at her with a kind of silent rage, which the saucy little puss never found out. But occupied and troubled as my mind was, it was impossible not to be amused at that inconsistent little creature and her goings on. She had brought out two great trunks with her, big enough to have held the whole of my wardrobe for winter and summer, though she knew very well we saw no company, and never required her to dress in the evening. And as for her lace and worked muslin, and all that foolish extravagance, that is so much in fashion again, there was no end to the store she had. Years before this I gave her the name of puss in velvet, for a very good reason. What do you think, at eleven years old, she had persuaded that poor innocent helpless man, her unfortunate papa, to do? Why, to get her a velvet frock, to be sure—not a pelisse, but a dress for evenings like any dowager old lady! Did ever anybody hear of anything so preposterous? And she kept up her fancy still, with velvet jackets, and even a little ridiculous velvet apron all trimmed and ornamented. Poor Mr. Cresswell, to be sure, was well off, and, indeed, rich in his way; but she might have ruined any man with her extravagance; and as to being ashamed of it, would lift up her face coolly, and tell you she never pretended to want to save papa’s money. At the same time she was as great as ever on the subject of dividing it all, and keeping just enough to live on. When that condition of things came about, she was to have no servants, but to do everything herself, and so were all the other people who were to share poor Mr. Cresswell’s money among them. When she went into the village with me she gave a wary eye to the cottages, how things were put tidy—and was quite resolved she should do it all, and be as happy as possible. But as for anything genteel, or middling, she scouted at it with the greatest contempt in the world. It was as good as a play to hear her. If my mind had been free to amuse myself, I should have quite enjoyed Sara’s vagaries; but, as it was, I could{114} only be amused and provoked by them now and then. I do believe she was much happier at the Park than at home. That big dull house, with all the unchangeable furniture, was not a place for a fantastical young girl; she poked about the greenhouses in all the back corners where the gardener did not want her, and where she was always sweeping down his flower-pots; she rummaged through the great suites of rooms that nobody ever occupied; she came into the library to help me with my accounts, and tease me out of my wits; she went fishing about the house through all the nooks and corners, and read all the old novels over again; and then she could not persuade and worry me into doing everything she pleased, as she could her father. I believe just at that moment Sara being at the Park was a great comfort to me.

Chapter III.

ONE day in the week I found little Sara all by herself in the library, very much engrossed about something. Indeed, she was in deep study, if that was to be believed. She had the great volume of the history of the county spread out before her, and a “Peerage” by her side; and at her other hand were some trumpery little books about Chester, of the handbook kind, Chester being, as everybody knows, a place of great antiquity, and, indeed, a kind of show place in this part of the country. She did not hear me when I came in, and as I came to an astonished pause behind her, quite bewildered to know what the little kitten could want with that great book, it was impossible she could see me. She was quite at the end of the county history, going over all the details about the families, and looking up the peerage, I could see, to find out all the connections and collateral branches. What could the child be so anxious about? Not our family, certainly, for we had no collateral branches. Just once for an instant, it shot through my mind, that her father might somehow have{115} put that sly secret idea of his own, that, if she played her cards well, we might leave her heiress of the Park, in little Sara’s head; but a moment’s thought convinced me that there was nothing in that. She was far too bold and simple for any such plan; she would have repeated it out to me directly and scorned it; and she had not an idea of the value of wealth, or what was the good of being very rich. If I could have made her a Mortimer, she might have thought twice about it, but not for being made simply an heiress; that was a matter to which Sara was quite indifferent.

But if it could not be us, who could it be? Had the child, perhaps, an admirer among some of the county families? I made a little rustle, I suppose, as I stood watching her; for she turned sharp round, found me out, and flushed up violently. In her hasty annoyance she threw the book over, shutting it upon her morsel of a hand, and defied me, turning round on her seat. Certainly if Mr. Cresswell had instructed his daughter to be very good, and amiable, and conciliatory, he had taken the very best plan to bring about a failure. Oh! but she was contrairy; the poor dear unfortunate man, what a life he must have led with that little puss!

“Godmamma!” cried Sara, with her eyes flashing, “I never knew that you spied upon people before!”

“Nor did I,” said I, quietly. “You may flatter yourself you are quite the first that ever found it out. Don’t crush your hand to pieces, child! I don’t want to know what you are about.”

On this the impatient little girl threw the book open again with a sound that echoed through all the library.

“Everybody may know what I am doing! Now don’t be angry, godmamma, I mean I quite intended to tell you if I found anything,” cried Sara. “Look here, this is just what it is. You said you had promised to help that poor Italian gentleman, and I know quite well you have never tried yet to find out anything for him. You need not look suspicious. I am interested about him. There is no harm in that, is there? If he were as old as Ellis, and as fat as his servant, I should be interested in him all the same.”

“Little Sara, never tell fibs,” said I. “I am just fifty, and you are only seventeen; but I should not be interested in him, all the same, if he were old and fat, I assure you. Let me hear, now, what you have been doing. You have nothing at all to do with him, remember; it was me, and only me, he applied to; but let us hear what it is.”{116}

“Oh, it is nothing at all,” said Sara in a disappointed tone. “I thought somebody might be found out, in some of these books, that had married an Italian. I like the ‘Peerage;’ it is the funniest thing in the world to see how all the people are twisted and linked together like network. Everybody in the world must be everybody else’s cousin, if all the common people’s families were like the peers.”

“To be sure we are,” said I, “only so distant it won’t count; but I don’t see what this has to do with what we were talking of before. Did you find nobody that had married an Italian in all the ‘Peerage,’ Puss?”

“You are trying to make me angry, godmamma,” said Sara, “but I shan’t be angry. There is no Countess Sermoneta, though I have looked over all the county families, and all their connections that I can make out; and papa, who knows everybody, does not know any such person, for I made him think and tell me; and the only person I can think of who does know is——”

Here little Sara stopped and looked very closely and keenly in my face.

“Who, child?” said I. “Not me, I am certain. Whom do you mean?”

“Can’t you guess?” “Why, godmamma Sarah, to be sure,” cried Sara. “I am quite sure she knows who the Countess Sermoneta is.”

“Child!” cried I, “do you know what you are saying? Your godmamma Sarah! how dare you think of such a thing!”

“Dare? is it anything wrong?” said Sara. “You are making a great deal more mystery of it than I should do, godmamma. After all, it isn’t a bit mysterious. Mr. Luigi wants to find this lady, and not knowing the country, he has come most likely to the wrong place; and I am sure he asks for her plain enough out. He could not do it plainer if she were Mrs. Smith instead of Countess Sermoneta; and there is nothing secret about it that I can see; only this, that godmamma Sarah knows her, and is so cross she won’t tell.”

“Sara, Sara, don’t say so!” cried I, “you make me quite unhappy. How can your godmamma, who never sets her foot out of doors, one may say,—for she would almost see as much in her own chamber as out of the carriage windows,—how could she possibly know a person no one else knows? And as for being cross, I really consider it very disrespectful and unkind of you, Sara. She never was cross to you. I am sure{117} she has always been very kind to you. You have had your own way so much, child, and been so spoiled, that you think you may say anything; but I must say, criticism on your godmothers——”

“I never criticised my godmothers,” cried Sara, starting up. “I may be as wicked as you please, but I never did so. I said godmamma Sarah was cross. Why, everybody knows she is cross. I never said, nor pretended, she was cross to me; and as for kindness! you don’t expect me, I am sure, to give you thanks, godmamma, for that!”

“What could you give me else?” said I, in some little surprise.

Sara stamped her little foot on the floor in vexation and impatience. “Godmamma! what thing in the world could I give you but love?” cried the provoking little creature. “You don’t suppose thanks would do? I thank Ellis when he opens the door for me, or anybody I don’t care for. I had rather, if you could, you did think me wicked and ungrateful, than suppose I would go and thank you.”

“The child understands!” said I to myself, with tears in my eyes. Ah! what multitudes of people there are in the world who don’t understand! I was taken by surprise. But Sara was of that disposition that she would quarrel with everybody all round, and fight for her secret like a little Amazon, before she ever would let anybody find out the real feeling that was in her heart. If you think she threw her arms round me and kissed me after that, you are quite mistaken. On the contrary, if she could have pinched, scratched, or given me a good shake, she would have liked it, I believe.

“But I want to know how this notion came into your perverse little head?” said I; “how can your godmamma know, Sara? and what could possibly make you imagine she did?”

“Why did you watch her so the other night?” cried Sara. “You saw, yourself, she knew something about it. Didn’t she listen to every word, and look as if she could have told us in a minute? and I am sure she thinks it quite pleasant to keep up a secret we don’t know,” cried the little girl that knew no better; “it quite interests her. I wonder how people can have so little feeling for others. She is not sorry for poor Mr. Luigi, nor concerned to think of all his loss of time and patience. She would rather keep her secret than satisfy him. What can it matter to godmamma Sarah, whether he finds the Countess Sermoneta or not?”

“What, indeed?” said I, with a sigh of bewilderment.{118} That was just the question I could not answer. What had she to do with it? and by what strange witchcraft was it, that Sara and I had both instinctively mixed her up with this business of which, to be sure, in reality she did not, she could not know anything? How dared we come to such conclusions with only looks to build upon! Seeing my own thoughts thus reflected in little Sara, I became quite shocked at myself.

“Child, it is quite impossible she can know anything about it. Both you and I are infatuated,” cried I. “How can Sarah possibly be mixed up in such a matter? It is the merest folly. She doesn’t even know your Mr. Luigi, nor who he is, nor the very name of the lady he is looking for. It is nonsense, Sara, quite nonsense. How is it possible she could know?”

“Oh, godmamma, I’ll tell you how; I have been thinking it out, and I am sure I am right. She was a long time abroad, you have often told me, and she knew a great many people,” cried Sara; “among the rest she knew this lady; and either because she likes her, or because she hates her, or because she won’t tell, she keeps all quiet about it. But she can’t help knowing, and saying she knows with her eyes. Godmamma Sarah, though she takes no notice, knows everything better than you do. Carson gets everybody’s news of them. Why, she even made my poor little Alice tell her all about Georgy Wilde, you know, and that unlucky brother of hers,—how often he came to our house, and everything about it; and godmamma Sarah did not leave me at peace about it either. I am sure they know everything that happens up in godmamma Sarah’s room. Godmamma, do you never have a gossip with your maid?”

“I have got no maid, child; you know that very well,” said I. “I never was brought up with any such luxury; and when I came to my kingdom I was too old to begin, and liked my own ways. But at all events, though you are so confident in your opinion, I am quite sure your godmamma can have no knowledge of this business, so don’t speak of it any more.”

“Will you ask her?” said Sara; “if she knows nothing about it, she will not mind being asked. Why should you be afraid of speaking if she does not know anything about it? It might be awkward, perhaps, if she knew and would not tell; but it can’t matter if she doesn’t know. Will you ask her, godmamma? or will you let me?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake go away, child, and don’t drive me crazy!” I cried. “Go upstairs and decide what dress you will wear, you velvet kitten; go and gossip with your maid. Here{119} am I in a peck of troubles, and can’t see my way out or in, and you ask me to let you!”

“You wouldn’t mind it in the least if you thought godmamma Sarah did not know,” said the provoking little girl; and so went gliding off, satisfied that I was of her opinion. When I was left to myself I dropped on a chair in utter despair, and could not tell what to think. The safest way was certainly to vow to myself that Sarah had nothing to do with it at all. What could she have to do with it? Her strange anxious looks must spring from some other cause. For once, at least, instinct must have deceived itself. Sarah knew the world and the Italians. She was not so easily taken in as we were—nothing else was possible; and she was only annoyed to see how ready to be imposed upon I was.

Chapter IV.

THIS conversation, of course, set my thoughts all into a ferment again. Little Sara was wonderfully quick-witted, if she was not very wise, as, indeed, was not to be expected at her years; and I confess her idea did return to my mind a great many times. Sarah might have known an Italian Countess in that obscure time of her life which I had no clue to; might even know some reason why persons from Italy might be looking for her, and might be nervous, for old acquaintance’ sake, of any one finding her out. When everything was so blank, any sort of sign-post was satisfactory. It was true that I don’t remember seeing Sarah display so much anxiety for any other person all her life before. But there might be reasons; and if it was a friendly feeling, I should certainly be the last person in the world to worry and aggravate my sister. I wish I could have composed my mind with all the reasonings I went through; but really, when I saw{120} poor Sarah sitting all watchful and conscious at her knitting, not getting on at all with her work, hearing the least rustle in the room, or touch at the door; starting, and trying to conceal her start every time the bell rung, with all the features of her face growing thinner, and her hands and head trembling more than they ever used to do, it was quite impossible for me to persuade myself that her mind was not busy with something which had happened, or which was about to happen. It might be something as completely unconnected with the poor Italian as possible; most likely it was; but something there was which agitated her most unaccountably, which I knew nothing about, and which she was determined I should not know. She was as conscious that I observed this strange change upon her as I was myself; and she faced me with such a resolution and defiance! No! I could read it in her eyes, and the full look she turned upon me whenever I looked at her—she would die rather than I should find it out.

It is quite impossible, however ignorant you may be of the causes of it, to live in the close presence of a person devoured by anxiety without being infected by it, more or less. One gets curious and excited, you know, in spite of one’s self; and all the more, of course, if the cause is quite inexplicable and the trouble sudden. I lived in the kind of feeling that you have just immediately before a thunderstorm—the air all of a hush, so that you could hear the faintest stir of a bird, or rustle of a branch, yet never knowing the moment when, instead of the bird’s motion or the leaves’ tremble, it might be the thunder itself that clamoured in your ears.

In this condition of mind Sara’s little side reference to Carson, and my sister’s acquaintance with everything that passed, did not fail to have its effect upon me, as well as other things. I don’t know that I would have been above questioning Carson if I could have got at her; but I did not see her once in three months, and could not have had any conversation with her without making quite an affair of it, and letting all the house know. Carson was not her right name. She had been Sarah’s maid when she was a young girl, and had married and lost her husband, and come back to the Park just in time to go abroad with her mistress, and being well known in the house by her maiden name, never got any other. I could not help wondering within myself if she knew, or how much she knew, of Sarah’s trouble, and its cause, whatever that might be. When the thought rose in my mind whether I might not try to get to private speech of Carson, I was out in the grounds{121} making a little survey, to see how everything was looking for spring, and had just been at the lodge to see poor little Mary, who (as I had foreseen from the beginning) was bad with the whooping-cough, but no worse than was to be expected, and nothing alarming or out of the way. The carriage had just gone up to take Sarah out for her drive, and I, all in shelter of a clump of holly bushes, became the witness, quite unawares and without any intention, of a most singular scene. A footstep went softly by me upon the gravel. I was just behind the lodge, and within sight of the gate and the road without. I saw Carson, in her cap and in-doors dress, go softly out at the gate. She went out into the road, pretending to hold out her hand and raise her face to see whether it rained; as if it were not perfectly clear to any one that it did not rain, nor would, either, till the glass fell. She looked up and down with an anxious look, and lingered five minutes or more in that same position. Then she came in, and met the carriage just inside the gate, which Williams had come to her cottage door to open. “All’s quite bright and clear, ma’am,” I heard Carson say; “no appearance of rain. I hope you’ll have a pleasant drive.” A moment after the carriage wheeled quickly out, the blind being drawn down just as it turned into the road. Carson stood looking after it with a kind of grieved, compassionate expression, which made me like her better. She answered Williams’ question, “Whatever had come over Miss Sarah to make her so particklar about the weather; in the carriage, too, as she wouldn’t be none the wiser, wet nor dry!” very shortly, sighed, and turned to go back, mincing with true lady’s-maid nicety, along the road. The sigh and the pitying look on her face determined me. I took a quick step through the bushes and came up to her. The holly branches tore a bit of trimming, as long as my finger, off my garden hood (I think a hood a great deal more suitable than a hat for a person of my years); but I did not mind. Here was a chance if I could only use it well.

“Carson,” said I, not to give her time to think, “my sister has surely grown very fidgety of late?”

Carson stared at me in an alarmed, confused way; but soon got back her self-possession. “My missis was always a bit fidgety, ma’am, though no more than she had a right to be,” said this one real, true, faithful adherent, whom Sarah had secured to her cause.

“I don’t know about such rights,” said I. “Now tell me, Carson;—you know a great deal more about her than I do.{122} Don’t you think I can see how nervous and disturbed she is?—what’s the matter with my sister? what is she afraid of? and what do you and she expect to see upon the road, that you go out to look that the way is clear, before she ventures beyond the gate? Don’t tell me about rain, I know better; what did you expect to see?”

Carson was taken entirely by surprise; she faltered, she grew red, she wrung her hands; she stammered forth something quite unintelligible, consisting of exclamations.—“Ma’am! Miss Milly!” and “My missis!” all confused and run into each other. She had no time to invent anything; and her fright and nervousness for the moment quite betrayed her.

“I don’t want you to be false to your mistress,” said I, getting excited, in my turn, at finding myself so near a clue to this mystery, as I thought. “I don’t want you to tell me her secret, if she has one—only let me know. Is there some danger apprehended? Is there some one in the country that Sarah is afraid to see? What is wrong? Her limbs are trembling under her, and her face growing thinner. Only think of her going out with the blinds down, poor forlorn soul; What is wrong? It would mend matters, somehow, if I knew.”

“Miss Milly,” said Carson, with a great many little coughs and clearings of her throat, “my missis has an attack on her nerves, that’s what it is; when she haves them attacks, she grows fidgety, as you say, ma’am. A little nice strengthening medicine, now, or a change of air, would be a nice thing. I said that to my missis just this very morning. I said ‘A few months at Brighton, now, or such like, would do you a world of good, ma’am.’ It’s on her nerves, that’s what it is.”

Carson had got quite glib and fluent before she ended this speech; the difficulty had only been how to begin.

“Now, Carson!” cried I, “if your mistress’s health suffers, and it turns out to be something you could have told me, you may be certain I shall call you to account for it. Think what you are saying. We Mortimers never have nervous attacks. I know you’re deceiving me. Think again. Will you tell me what is wrong?”

“Ma’am, Miss Milly, it’s an attack on the nerves,” cried Carson; “my missis has had them before. I couldn’t say more if I was to talk till to-morrow. I’ve got my caps to see to, I ask your pardon;—my missis is very particular about her caps.”{123}

Upon which Carson somehow managed to elude me, with a mixture of firmness and cunning quite extraordinary; and while I had still my eyes fixed on her, and was calling her to stay with all the authority of my position as acting mistress of the house, contrived to melt in at a back door and escape out of my hands, I never could explain how. Talk about controlling people with your eye, and swaying them by force of character, and all that! I defy anybody to sway a servant in a great house who is trained to the sort of thing, and knows how to recollect her work at a critical moment, and the nearest way to the back stairs. Carson had proved herself too many for me.

Chapter V.

IT seems I was destined to hear of nothing but this Italian. I had not kept faith to him, certainly. I had been startled and thrown back by finding out how the idea of him got to be involved in Sarah’s trouble; and really I did not care much about the Countess Sermoneta, whom I had never heard of. I had been interested in him, I allow; but how could I keep up an interest in strangers, with so much closer an anxiety near home?

However, just the next day after I had spoken to Carson, Dr. Roberts called. Dr. Roberts was our rector; not a relation, but a kind of family connection, somehow, I really could not tell how. For three or four generations, at least, a Roberts had held our family living. There were so few of us Mortimers, as I have already explained, that the living could never be of any use to us; and our great-great-grandfathers had happened to be intimate, and so it came about that the living was as much an hereditary thing to the Robertses as our property was to us. Dr. Roberts was the best of good, easy, quiet men.{124} He preached us a nice little sermon every Sunday. He would dine with the people who were in a condition to ask him, and make himself as agreeable as possible. He patted the children on the head, and wondered how it was that he had forgotten their names. Of course he had his own way of doing most things, and seldom varied; but then one could always calculate on what he would do and say, and wasn’t that a comfort? On the whole, he was the most excellent, good drowse of a man I ever knew. He led a very quiet life, with little interruption, except when, now and then, a storm seized upon him, in the shape of a new curate with advanced ideas. In such cases Dr. Roberts generally bowed to the tempest till its force was exhausted. He laughed in his quiet way at the young men. “They are all for making a fuss when they begin,” he said to me, confidentially; “but depend upon it, when they come to our age, Miss Milly, they’ll find the advantage of just getting along.” That was his favourite mode of progress. He was too stout and easy to make much haste. He loved to get along quietly; and really, as ours was a small parish, and nothing particular to make a commotion about, I don’t suppose there was much harm done.

But only to think of Dr. Roberts becoming one of my assailants! I never could have expected any such thing. He came in, bringing some books from Miss Kate, who was as unlike him as possible. She was very active in the parish, and had something to do, with or for, everybody. She was rather Low-Church, and sent us books to read, to do us good, which, for my part, I always read faithfully, being very willing to have good done me, as far as it was practicable. Dr. Roberts sat down with a little sigh in the round easy chair, his particular chair, which Ellis wheeled out for him; not with a sentimental sigh, good man; but the road to the Park ascends a little, and the doctor, for the same reason as Hamlet, was a little scant of breath.

We were all as usual. Sarah, in the shadow of the screen, with her knitting-pins in her hands, and her basket of wools and patterns at her side; myself opposite, commanding a view of the door and the great mirror, and all the room; little Sara, half a mile off, reading at one of the windows—for it was very mild for February, and really one did not feel much need of a fire. Dr. Roberts wandered on in his comfortable way for half an hour at least; he complimented Miss Mortimer on always being so industrious, and me upon my blooming looks! only think of that! but I dare say he must have forgotten that it{125} was Sarah who was the beauty; and he gave us a quiet opinion upon the books he had brought us, that they were “very much in Kate’s style, you know;” and had a word to say about the curate—just one of his comfortable calls, when he has something to say about everybody; nothing more.

“But, by-the-bye,” said the good Doctor, “I had almost forgotten the principal thing. There’s something romantic going on among us just now, Miss Milly. Where is little Miss Cresswell? she ought to hear this.”

“What is it, Doctor?” I asked, rather startled at this beginning.

“Well, the fact is, I have had a strange sort of visitor,” said the Doctor, with a soft little laugh; “or rather two, I should say,” he continued, after a little pause, “ha! ha! I had Hubert to him, who pretends to speak Italian, you know, ha! ha! He could speak Dante, perhaps; but he can’t manage the Transteverine. I can’t say that I did not enjoy it a little. These young fellows, Miss Milly, are so happy in their own good opinion. Poor Hubert was terribly put out.”

“Who are you speaking of?” asked I again.

“Well, of a visitor I had; or two, as I have just said,—the master and the man. The master speaks English very tolerably; the man is the real, native, original article, newly imported. I am in good condition myself,” said the good Doctor, giving a quiet unconscious pinch on his plump wrist; “but anything like that, you know, goes quite beyond me. You would have laughed to see poor young Hubert, poor fellow, talking to him in his high Dantesque way, and the fat fellow dashing in through the midst of it all, helter skelter, in real Italian. Ha! ha! it was a most amusing scene.”

“Italian?” said I, scarcely venturing to speak above my breath, my consternation was so great.

“Yes,” said Dr. Roberts, calmly, with still a little agitation of laughter about his voice—the discomfiture of the curate amused him excessively—“Italian. The young man called on me to ask after a lady, whom he supposed to be living in this neighbourhood, a Countess Sermoneta. Did you ever hear of such a person, Miss Milly?”

“No,” said I, as quietly as I could. Sarah took no notice, showed no curiosity, betrayed to me that she had heard this name before, and did not learn the particulars of the stranger’s inquiry for the first time. In general she liked to hear the news; and though she rarely took any part in the conversation, listened to it, and showed that she did so. To-day she never{126} raised her head. Perhaps I was over-suspicious; but this entire want of interest only added to my bewildering doubts.

At this point little Sara came forward, and thrust herself, as was natural, into a conversation so interesting to her; I only wondered she had not done it sooner.

“That is poor Mr. Luigi, that has been so much talked of in Chester,” cried Sara; “and godmamma met him on the road, and promised to try and find out for him. Do make her take it up, please Dr. Roberts. Did you never hear of the lady either? How strange nobody should have heard of her! Who was she, does he say? What does he want with her? do tell us, dear Dr. Roberts, please.”

Sarah’s knitting-pins had dropped out of her hand when her goddaughter broke in upon Dr. Roberts’ good-humoured drowsy talk. I turned to help her to pick them up, but she waved me away. What could be the matter? she was trembling all over like an aspen leaf.

“My dear Miss Cresswell, he gave me no information whatever,” said the Doctor, smiling most graciously upon the pretty dainty little creature in her velvet jacket! “and indeed, he was not quite the kind of man that I should undertake to question. Hubert might do it, you know, ha! ha! but then he rather stands on the dignity of his office, and would not mind putting you, yourself, dangerous though it might be, through your catechism. I did all that lively curiosity could do, you may believe, to find out who he is, and who she was, but I made nothing of it. He, as you seem to know, calls himself Mr. Luigi, and he wants the Countess Sermoneta, a person no one in Cheshire ever heard of. I told him I had no doubt he was mistaken in the locality; near Manchester, perhaps, or Chichester, or some other place with a similar-sounding name; but I don’t think he took in what I said. And you saw him, too, Miss Milly? very odd, wasn’t it? He must have made a mistake in the place.”

“I suppose so,” said I, quite faintly. Sarah’s knitting-pins had actually fallen out of her hands again!

“I promised to inquire and let him know if I heard anything,” said the rector; “but if I do not know, and you do not know, Miss Milly,—we’re about the likeliest people in the county, I suspect,—I don’t think it is much good making other inquiries. You are sure you never heard the name?”

“Never in my life, so far as I recollect,” said I. “I promised to make inquiries, too, and asked him to come to the Park, and I would let him know. But that seems merely{127} tantalising him. If you will give me the address, Dr. Roberts, I will write him a note.”

He gave me the address in his own leisurely way, and then he returned to the scene at the rectory, where he had called the curate, who happened to be with him at the time, to talk to Mr. Luigi’s servant, not without some intention of doing the good young man a mischief, I am sure; and how poor Mr. Hubert talked Dantesque, as the Doctor said, shaking his portly person with quiet laughter, and the fat Italian burst in with a flood of what Dr. Roberts called real Italian. I could understand how it would be from what I had seen myself; but I confess I found it very difficult to listen and smile as it was necessary to do. There sat Sarah, close up in the shelter of her screen, never lifting her head or making any sign to show that she heard the conversation; not a smile rose upon her face; she saw nothing amusing in it; her lips were firm set together, and all the lines of her face drawn tight; and though her cheeks retained a kind of unnatural glow, which, for the first time in my life, made me think that Sarah used paint, or something to heighten her complexion, her brow and chin, and all except that pink spot, were ghastly grey, and colourless. She had stopped her knitting altogether now, and was rubbing her poor fingers, making believe to be very much occupied with them, stooping down to rub the joints before the fire. It quite went to my heart to see her sitting so forlorn there, shut up within herself. Ah! whatever it was she feared, could I ever be hard upon her? could I ever do anything but help her to bear what misfortune or anxiety she might be under? I thought Dr. Roberts would never be done with his story. I thought he would never go away. I dare say he, on his part, thought we had just had a quarrel, or something of that sort, and gave Miss Kate an amusing description of us when he went home; for he had an amusing way of telling a story. And then, how to get quit of little Sara when he was gone? I felt sure my sister would break out upon me somehow, very likely without taking any notice of the real reason; but all that silent excitement must find an outlet somehow; either that, or her mind would give way, or she would break a blood-vessel, or something dreadful would happen. I knew Sarah’s ways very well, we had been so long together. I knew that, one way or other, she must get it out, and relieve herself; and, to be sure, there was nobody whom she could relieve her feelings upon but me.{128}

Chapter VI.

ALL in haste, and in a peremptory tone, to which nobody could be less used to than she was, I had sent little Sara away on some commission, invented on the spur of the moment, when the door closed on Dr. Roberts. The child looked up in my face with an amazed uncomprehension of any order issued to her; I fancy I can see her great eyes growing larger and blacker as she turned, asking what I meant. But Sara had understanding in her, wilful as she was; she saw there was occasion for it, though she could not understand how; and whenever her first surprise was over, she went off and obeyed me with an alacrity which I shall always remember. We two were left alone. I took up some work that lay on the table. I could not tell whether it was mine or Sara’s, or who it belonged to. I bent my head fumbling over it, too agitated to see what I was doing. Now the volcano was about to explode. Now, even, an explanation might be possible.

“What was that I heard from you just now?” cried Sarah, in her shrill whisper. “You were so lost to all common feeling, you were so forgetful of my claims and everybody else’s, that you invited a common foreign impostor to come here—here, without an idea what bad intentions he might have—here to my house!”

“Sarah! for heaven’s sake what do you know about him? What have you to do with this young man?” said I, the words bursting, in spite of myself, from my lips.

I suppose she did not expect this question. She stopped with a flood of other reproaches and accusations ready to be poured forth, staring at me—staring—there is no other word for it. Her looks were dreadful to me. She looked like some baited animal that had turned to bay. Was it my doing? Presently her senses came back to her. And I was glad, really thankful, when I saw that it was mere passion—one of her fits of temper, poor dear soul! that had returned upon her again.

“You dare to ask me such questions?” she cried; “you, a poor simpleton that throws our doors open to any adventurer!{129} This is what I have to do with him. He shall never enter my house. I’ll have him expelled if he comes here. I’ll muster the servants and let them know who’s mistress,—you, a rustical fool that knows nothing of the world, and are ready to throw yourself at anybody’s head that flatters you a little, or me, that knows life and can detect a cheat! What! you’ll go slander me in addition, will you? You worry and drive me out of my senses, and then pretend that I have something to do with every impostor you pick up in the streets. I tell you I’ll have him turned out if he dares to come to this house. I will not have my peace molested for your fool’s tricks and intrigues. An Italian forsooth! a fellow that will cringe to you, and flatter you, and be as smooth as velvet. I’ll have him thrown into prison if he dares to come here!”

“Sarah! Sarah! for what reason? the poor young man has never harmed you,” I cried, holding up my hands.

She gave a strange bitter cry. “Fool! how can you tell whether he has harmed me?” she cried out, wringing her thin hands: then suddenly stopping short, came to herself again, and stared at me once more. Always that stare of blank resistance—the hunted creature brought to bay. She had been standing while she spoke before. Now she dropped into her chair, exhausted, breathless, with a strange look of fury at herself. She thought she had betrayed herself—and most likely so she had, if I had possessed the slightest clue by which to find her mystery out.

“I beg and entreat you to be calm, and not to excite yourself,” cried I, trying, if it were possible, to soothe her. “I know nothing whatever about this young Italian, Sarah. I took an interest in him from his appearance, and something in his voice—and because he was a stranger and had no friends. But I will write to him immediately not to come—he is nothing to me. He has neither flattered me nor asked anything of me. I see no harm in him; but I shall certainly write and say he is not to come. You might know well that there is no stranger in the world for whom I would cross you.”

“Oh, I am used to fair speeches, Milly,” said my sister, “quite used to them; and used to being made no account of when all’s done. I, that might have been so different. I might have had a coronet, and been one of the leaders of life, instead of vegetating here; and, instead of respecting me after I have resigned all that, I am to be badgered to death by your{130} old maid’s folly, and have a vulgar impostor brought in upon me to oust me out of my home. Bring in whom you like, thank heaven, I’m more than a match for you. I tell you, you shall bring nobody here—it is my house, and was my house before you were born. I shall keep it mine, and leave it to whom I like. Your romances and fictions are nothing in this world to me. I am mistress, and I will be mistress. You are only my younger sister, and I have nothing in the world to consult but my own pleasure. I am not to be driven into changing my mind by any persecution. I advise you to give up your schemes before you suffer for them. Nobody, I tell you,—no man in the world with evil designs against me, and my fortune, and my honour, shall come into my house!”

“Sarah! what on earth do you mean? Who is plotting against you? Your fortune and your honour? What are you thinking of? You have gone too far to draw back now,” cried I, in the greatest excitement. “Explain yourself before we go any farther—what do you mean?”

Once more she stared at me blankly and fiercely; but she had got it out, and had more command of herself after she had relieved her mind. Could it be only an outburst of passion? but my spirit was up.

“The house is my house as well as yours,” I cried, when she did not answer. “I have a voice as powerful as yours in everything that has to be done. Yes, I can see what is going to happen. We are the two Mortimers that are to send it out of the name. But I will not give up my rights, either for the prophecy or for any threats. I have never made a scheme against you, nor ever will. You have been wretched about something ever since that day you were so late on your drive. I have seen it, though I cannot tell the reason. This Italian cannot be any connection of yours. He is a young man; he could not be more than born when you were abroad. You might be his mother for age. What fancy is it that you have taken into your mind, about him? What do you suppose you can have to do with him? Sarah, for heaven’s sake! what is the matter? If you ever had the slightest love for me, take me into your confidence, and let me stand by you now.”

For when I was speaking, some of my words, I cannot tell which, had touched some secret spring that I knew nothing of; and dropping down her head upon her hands she gave such a bitter, desperate groan that it went to my very heart. I ran to her and fell on my knees by her side. I kissed her hand, and begged her to have confidence in me. I was ready to{131} promise never to disturb her, never to speak of setting up a will of my own again; but I felt I must not give in; it would be now or never. She would trust me and tell me her trouble whether it was real or only fanciful; and her mind would be relieved when it was told.

But the now passed and the never came. She lifted up her head and pushed me away; she looked at me with cold stony eyes; she relapsed without a moment’s interval into her usual chilly, common-place, fretful, tone—that tone of a discontented mind and closed heart which had disturbed and irritated mine for years. All her old self returned to her in an instant. Even her passion had been elevating and great in comparison. She looked at me with her cold observant eyes, and bade me get up, and not look so like a fool. “But it is impossible to think of teaching you what anybody else of your age and position must have learned thirty years ago,” she said, twitching her dress, which, when I foolishly threw myself down beside her, I had put my knee upon unawares, from under me. I cannot describe to anybody the mortified, indignant feeling with which I scrambled up. Think of going down upon my knees to her, ready to do anything or give up anything in the world for her, and meeting this reception for my pains! I felt almost more bitterly humiliated and ashamed than if I had been doing something wrong. I, who was not a young girl but an elderly woman, long accustomed to be respected and obeyed! If she had studied how to wound me most deeply, she could not have succeeded better. I got up stumbling over my own dress, and hastily went out of the room. I even went out of the house, to calm myself down before I met anybody. I would not like to confess to all the angry thoughts that came into my mind for the next hour in the garden. I walked about thinking to get rid of them, but they only grew more and more vivid. My affection was rejected and myself insulted at the same moment. You would not suppose, perhaps, that one old woman could do as much for another; but I assure you, Sarah had wounded me as deeply as if we had been a couple of young men.

When I found my temper was not going down as it ought to do, but on the contrary my imagination was busy concocting all sorts of revengeful things to say to her, I changed my plan, and went back to the library and looked over the newspapers. Don’t go and think over it, dear good people, when you feel very much insulted and angry. Read the papers or a novel. I went down naturally when I stopped thinking. After all,{132} poor Sarah! poor Sarah! whom did she harm by it? only herself, not me.

But anybody will perceive at a glance that after this I was more completely bewildered than ever, and could not undertake to say to my own mind, far less to anybody else, whether there was or was not any real reason for Sarah’s nervousness, or whether she had actually any sort of connection with this young Italian. Sometimes I made myself miserable with the idea that the whole matter looked like an insane fancy. People when they are going mad, as I have heard, always take up the idea that they are persecuted or wronged somehow. What if Sarah’s mind was tottering, and happening to catch sight of this young man, quite a stranger, and very likely to catch her eye, her fancy took hold of him as the person that was scheming against her? The more I thought over this, the more feasible it looked; though it was a dreadful thing to think that one’s only sister was failing in her reason, and that any night the companion of my life might be a maniac. But what was I to think? How was it possible, no madness being in the case, that a young unknown stranger could threaten the fortune and honour of Sarah Mortimer, born heiress of the Park, and in lawful possession of it for more than a dozen years? What possible reason could there be for her, if she was in her sane senses, fearing the intrigues of anybody, much less a harmless young foreigner? But then that groan! was it a disturbed mind that drew that involuntary utterance out of her? Heaven help us! What could any one think or do in such circumstances? I was no more able to write a note to Mr. Luigi that evening than I was to have gone out and sought him. Things must take their chance. If he came he must come. I could not help myself. Besides, I had no thought for Mr. Luigi and his lost Countess. I could think only of my sister. No! no! little Sara was deceived, clever as she was. Sarah knew no Countess Sermoneta—her mind disturbed and unsettled, had fixed upon the strange face on the way, only as some fanciful instrument of evil to herself.{133}

Chapter VII.

NEXT morning at breakfast I found a letter waiting me, in an unknown hand—an odd hand, not inelegant, but which somehow gave a kind of foreign look even to the honest English superscription. The address was odd, too. It was Miss Milla Mortimer, a very extraordinary sort of title for me, Millicent. That is the work of diminutives—they are apt to get misunderstood and metamorphosed into caricatures of names.

The letter inside was of a sufficiently odd description to correspond with the address; this is how it was expressed:—


“You will pardon me if I say Madame, when I perhaps should ought to say Mademoiselle. Madame will understand that the titles of honour, which differ in every country, do much of times puzzle a foreigner. Since I had the honour of making an encounter with Mademoiselle, I have more than once repeated my searches; and all in finding no one, it has come to me in the head to go to another place, where there may be better of prospects. I have, then, made the conclusion to go to Manchester, where I shall find, as they say, some countrymen, and will consult with their experience. There are much of places, they say, with Chester in the name. I go to make a little voyage among them. If I have the happiness to find the Contessa, I will take the liberty of making Madame aware of it. If it is to fail, I must submit. I shall return to Chester; and all in making my homage to Madame, will use the boldness of asking if anything of news respecting the Contessa may have come to her recollection. In all cases Madame will permit me to remember with gratitude her bounty to a stranger.

Luigi S——.

Sara and I were, as usual, alone at the breakfast-table, and to tell the truth, I prized this interval when Sarah’s eyes were not upon me, nor all the troublous matters conveyed in her looks present to my mind, as quite a holiday season,—when I could look as I liked, say what I pleased, and be afraid of{134} nobody. Besides, though I was more and more uneasy about Sarah, I was not disturbed in my mind about this young man to the degree I had been, nor so entirely mystified about any possible connection between them. Since last evening, thinking it all over, it came to be deeply impressed upon my mind that there was no connection between them: that my poor sister knew nothing whatever about him or his Italian Countess. Simply that Sarah’s mind, poor dear soul, was giving way, and that catching sight of the strange face on the road, she had somehow identified and fixed upon it as the face of an unknown agent of trouble, the “somebody” who always injures, or persecutes, or haunts the tottering mind. It was but little comfort to me to conclude upon this, as you may suppose, but it seemed to explain everything. It cleared up a quite unintelligible mystery. Poor Sarah! poor soul! She who had known such a splendid morning, such an exciting noon, such a dull leaden afternoon of life,—and how dark the clouds were gathering round her towards the night!

But being thus eased in my mind about the young man, the kindness I had instinctively felt to him came strong upon me. I remembered the look he had, quite affectionately, the nice, handsome, smiling, young fellow! Who could it be that he was like? Somebody whom I remembered dimly through the old ages; and his voice, too? His voice made a thrill of strange wondering recollections run through me. Certainly that voice had once possessed some power or influence over my mind. I decided he would not find his Countess in Manchester. Fancy the ridiculous notion! A Countess in Manchester! No. She must belong about Cheshire, somewhere; and I must have known her in my youth.

So I read his note twice over, with a good deal of interest, and then naturally, as we had talked of him together so often, handed it to Sara. Now I did not in the least mean to watch Sara while she read it, but, having my eyes unconsciously upon her face at the moment, was startled, I acknowledge, by seeing her suddenly flush up, and cast a startled glance at me, as if the child expected that something more than usual was to be in the note. Who could tell what romantic fancies might be in her head? It is quite possible her imagination had been attracted by the stranger, and perhaps if she had heard that Mr. Luigi had fallen romantically in love with her, Sara would have been less surprised and much less shocked than I should. However, there was no such matter, but only a sensible, though, I must confess, rather odd and Frenchified{135} note. After the first glance she read it over very calmly and carefully, then laid it down, with something that looked wonderfully like a little shade of pique, and cried out in her sharpest tone:

“Oh, godmamma, how sensible!—to be sure to be an Italian, and young, he must be a perfect miracle of a Luigi. Actually, because there are countrymen of his in Manchester—music teachers and Italian masters, of course—to give up an appointment with a lady, and at such a house as the Park! I think he must be quite the most sensible and pretty-behaved of young men.”

“I think he shows a great deal of sense,” said I, not altogether pleased with the child’s tone; “but if you will excuse me saying so, Sara, I think it is just a little vulgar of you to say ‘at such a house as the Park.’

Sarah flushed up redder and redder. I quite thought we were to have a quarrel again.

“Oh, of course, godmamma, if I had been speaking of a—of an English gentleman; but you know,” said the wicked little creature, looking boldly in my face, “you set him down at once, whenever you heard of him, as an adventurer,—a count, you know,—one of the fellows that came sneaking into people’s houses and wanted to marry people’s daughters. I am only repeating what you said, godmamma. It was not I that said it. And now you perceive this good respectable young man does not attempt anything of the kind.”

“But then you see we, at the Park, have no daughters to marry,” said I, looking at her rather grimly.

“Oh, to be sure, that makes all the difference,” cried Sara, bursting open her own letters with a half-ashamed, annoyed laugh. I have no doubt she had said twice as much as she meant to say, the impatient little puss, and was ashamed of herself. She had set her heart on seeing Mr. Luigi, that was the plain truth of the matter. Seeing him at the Park, where of course papa could have nothing to say against the introduction, hearing all about his search after the unknown lady, exercising her wiles upon him, turning him into a useless creature like that poor boy Wilde, in Chester, who was good for nothing but to waylay her walks and go errands for her. That was what she wanted, the wicked little coquette. It was just as well Mr. Luigi had taken care of himself, and kept out of the way. I really thought it was right to read her a lecture on the occasion.

“Sara, you are quite disappointed the poor young man is{136} not coming. You wanted to make a prey of him, you artful puss,” said I. “You thought, out here in the country, with nothing else to do, it would be good fun to make him fall in love with you—you know you did! And I think it is not at all a creditable thing, I assure you. How can you excuse yourself for all the damage you have done to that young Wilde?”

“Damage!” cried Sara. “If I am a puss, I may surely pounce upon a mouse that comes in my way,” she said spitefully; and then putting on her most innocent look;—“but, indeed, it is very shocking to have such suspicions of me, especially as I am a fright now, godmamma Sarah says.”

“It is just as well Mr. Luigi does not put himself in your way,” said I; “and it would be very wicked of you to do any harm to him, or attempt such a thing; and I say so particularly, because I think you are quite inclined to it, Sara, which is very wrong and very surprising. You are not such a beauty as your godmamma Sarah was, but you have just the same inclinations. It is something quite extraordinary to me.”

The little puss looked at me with her wicked eyes blazing, and her face flushed and angry. She looked quite beautiful in spite of her short little curls. I am not sure that she might not, when she grew older, be very near as great a beauty as her godmamma. She did not make any answer, but bit her lips, and set her little red mouth, and looked a very little sprite of mischief and saucy daring. She was not abashed by what I said to her. She was a thoughtless child, aware only of a strange mischievous power she had, and thinking no harm.

“For I know,” said I, half to myself, “that poor Mr. Luigi will come back. I feel as if I had known him half a lifetime ago. His voice is a voice I used to hear when I was young. I can’t tell whose voice it is, but I know it. He’ll come back here. He won’t find the lady in Manchester, or any other chester; he’ll find her in Cheshire, if he finds her at all.”

“Did godmamma Sarah say so?” cried Sara, suddenly losing her own self-consciousness in her interest in this bit of mystery.

“Child, do not be rash,” cried I, in some agitation. “Your godmamma knows nothing about her; it is all a mistake.”

“Did you ask her?” said Sara. “Godmamma, it is written in her face. When the rector was speaking, when you were speaking, even when I was speaking, it was quite evident she knew her abroad, and remembered who she was; but she will{137} not tell. It is not a guess; I am perfectly sure of it. She knows all about her, and she will not tell.”

“It is quite a mistake, Sara,” cried I, trembling in spite of myself. “She has taken some fancy into her head about Mr. Luigi, some merely visionary notion that he has some bad intention, I cannot tell you what. But I am certain she knows nothing about this Countess. Child, don’t think you know better than anybody else! I have thought a great deal about it, and made up my mind. Your godmamma has grown fanciful, she has taken this into her head. Don’t be rash in speaking of your fancies; it might give her pain;—and your idea is all a mistake.”

“Will you ask her? or will you let me ask her?” cried Sara. “If she says ‘No,’ I shall be satisfied.”

“I will do no such thing,” said I. “She is my only sister, I will do nothing to molest or vex her; and, Sara, while I am here, neither shall you.”

Sara did not say anything for a few minutes. She allowed me to pick up my letter in silence, for we had finished breakfast. She let me gather up my papers and ring the bell, and make my way to the door. Then, as I stood there waiting for Ellis, she brushed past me rapidly. “Godmamma” said Sara, looking into my face for a moment, “all the same, she knows,” and had passed the next instant, and was gliding upstairs before I had recovered my composure. How pertinacious she was! Against my will this had an effect on me.{138}

Chapter VIII.

GREAT and many were my musings what steps I ought to take; or, indeed, whether I ought to take any steps in the strange dilemma I was in. I considered of it till my head ached. What if Sarah’s mind were possibly just at that delicate point when means of cure might be effectual? but how could I bring her to any means of cure? There have been many miserable stories told about false imputations of insanity and dreadful cruelties and injustice following, but I almost think there might be as many and as sad on the other side, about friends watching in agony, neither able nor willing to take any steps until it was too late, far too late, for any good. This was the situation I felt myself in; no matter whether I was right or wrong in my opinion, this was how I felt myself. I suppose nobody can think of madness appearing beside them in the person of their nearest companion, without a dreadful thrill and terror at their heart; but at the same time I felt that, however inevitable this might be, I must first come to it unmistakably. I must first see it, hear it, beyond all possibility of doubt, before I ventured to whisper it even to the secret ear of a physician.

All this floated through my mind with that dreadful faculty of jumping at conclusions that imagination always has. Did ever anybody meet with any great misfortune, which has been hanging some time over them, without going through it a thousand times before the blow really fell, and the dreadful repetition was done away with once and for ever? How many times over and over, sleeping and waking, does the death-bed watcher go through the parting that approaches before it really comes? Dying itself, I think,—one naturally thinks what kind of a process that is, as one comes near the appointed natural period of its coming,—dying itself must be rehearsed so often, that its coming at last is a real relief to the real actor. Not only does what is real go through a hundred performances in one’s imagination, but many a scene appals us that, thank heaven, we are never condemned to go through with. I could not see before me what was to happen, nor into Sarah’s mind{139} to know what was astir there; but I tortured myself all the same, gathering all the proofs of this new dismal light thrown upon her, in my mind. All insane people make up a persecutor or pursuer for themselves. Poor Sarah had found hers in the strange face,—it was so unusual in our quiet roads to see a strange face!—which she met all at once and without warning, on the quiet road.

I recollected every incident, and everything confirmed my idea. She had taken a panic all at once,—she had driven five miles round to get out of his way; from that hour painful watchfulness and anxiety had come to her face. Carson was sent out to see that the road was clear, before, poor soul, she would venture out, though with the carriage blinds drawn down. Ah! I think if my only communication with the open air and the out-of-doors world was in the enclosure of that carriage with the blinds drawn down, I should certainly go mad, and quickly too! I had a long afternoon by myself in the library that day. I went back, as well as my memory would carry me, into the history of the Mortimers. Insanity was not in our family,—no trace of it. We had never been very clever, but we had been obstinately sane and sober-minded. My mother’s family too, the Stamfords, so far as I know, were all extremely steady people. It is odd when one individual of a family, and no more, shows a tendency to wander; at sixty, too, all of a sudden, with no possible reason. But who can search into the ways of Providence? It might perhaps never go any further; it might be the long silence of her life, and perhaps long brooding over such things as may have happened to her in the course of it. Something must have happened to Sarah; she was not like me. She had really lived her life, and had her own course in the world. She had known her own bitterness, too, no doubt, or she—she, the great beauty, the heiress,—would not have been Sarah Mortimer sitting voiceless by the fireside. She had been too silent, had too much leisure to go over her life. Her brain had rusted in the quietness; terrors had risen within her that took form and found an execution for themselves whenever, without any warning, she saw a strange face. This explained everything. I could see it quite clear with this interpretation; and without this nothing could explain it; for the young Italian looking for his friend, the lady whom nobody had ever heard of, could be nothing in the world to Sarah Mortimer.

Thinking over this, it naturally occurred to me that it would be important to let my poor sister know that this innocent{140} young object of her fears had left the neighbourhood. It might, even, who knows? restore the balance to her poor mind. I got up from my chair the moment I thought of that, but did not go out of the library quite so quickly as you might have supposed, either. I was afraid of Sarah’s passions and reproaches; I always was. She had a way of representing everybody else as so unkind to her, poor dear soul, and of making out that she was neglected and of no consequence. Though I knew that this was not the case, I never could help feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps if I could only have put myself in her place, I might have felt the same; but it made me very timid of starting any subject before her that she did not like, even though it might be to relieve her mind.

I went slowly into the drawing-room. I thought most likely little Sara was dressing upstairs, and we two would have a little time to ourselves. When I went into the great room it was lying in the twilight, very dim and shadowy. The great mirror looked like another dimmer world added on to this one which was already so dim,—a world all full of glimpses and gliding figures, and brightened up by the gleams of the firelight which happened to be blazing very bright and cheerful. There were no curtains closed nor blinds down. Four great long windows, each let into the opposite wall a long strip of sky, the grass, and leafless trees, giving one a strange idea of the whole world outside, the world of winds, and hills, and rivers, and foreign unknown people. It was not light that came in at these windows; it was a sort of grey luminous darkness, that led our eyes up to the sky and blurred everything underneath. But in the centre of the room burned that ruddy centre of fire, a light which is quite by itself, and is not to be compared to anything else. Straight before me, as I stood at the door, was Sarah’s screen, shutting out as much light as it could, and of course concealing her entirely; but beyond, full in the ruddy light on the other side of the screen, with the red fire reddening all over her velvet jacket, her glossy hair, and the white round arms out of those long wide sleeves, sat little Sara Cresswell, on a footstool opposite her godmamma, and talking to her. I cannot say Sara was in a pretty attitude. Young ladies now-a-days are sadly careless in their ways. She was stooping quite double, with one of her hands thrust into her hair, and the fire scorching her complexion all to nothing; and one of the long, uncovered windows, with the blind drawn up to the very top, you may be sure by Sara’s own wilful hands, was letting in the sky light over her,{141} like a very tall spirit with pale blue eyes, so chilly, and clear, and pale, that it looked the oddest contrast possible to the firelight and the little velvet kitten then in front of it, all scorched and reddened over, as you could fancy; velvet takes on that surface tint wonderfully. I could see nothing of Sarah in the shelter of her screen; but there sat the little puss in velvet, straight before her, talking to her as nobody else ever ventured to talk. I have been long telling you how that fireside scene looked, just to get my breath. I had been trying to work myself up to the proper pitch to enter upon that subject again with my poor sister. But lo! here had little Sara come on her own account and got it all over. I could see at a glance that there was no more to be said.

I came forward quietly and dropped into my own seat without saying anything. Dear, dear! had it been an insane, unreasonable terror, or had it been something real and serious that she knew, and she alone? Sarah was leaning a little towards the fire, rubbing the joints of her fingers, which were rheumatic, as I have mentioned before; but it was not what she was doing that struck me; it was the strange look of ease and comfort that had somehow come upon her. Her whole person looked as if it had relaxed out of some bondage. Her head drooped a little in a kind of easy languor: her muslin shawl, lined with pale blue, hung lightly off her shoulders. Her pins were laid down orderly and neat on her basket with the wools. Her very foot was at ease on the footstool. How was it? If it had been incipient madness, could this grateful look of rest have come so easily? Would the fever have gone down only at knowing he was away? Heavens know! I sat all silent in my own chair in the shadow, and felt the water moisten my old eyes. What she must have gone through before this sudden ease could show itself so clearly in every limb and movement! What an iron bondage she must have been putting on! What a relief this was! Her comfort and sudden relaxation struck me dumb. I was appalled at the sight of it. My notion about insanity, dreadful to think of, but still natural and innocent, was shaken; a restless uneasiness of a different description rose upon my mind. Could he indeed be anything to her, this young stranger? Could she in her own knowledge have some mysterious burden which was connected with his coming or going? Could she have recognised, instead of only finding an insanely fanciful destiny in his strange face? Impossible! That foreign life of hers, so obscure and mysterious to me, was of an older period than his{142} existence. He could bring no gossip, no recollections to confound her. At the time of her return he could scarcely have been born. Thus I was plunged into a perfect wilderness of amazed questions again.

“When little Sara went off to dress,—she dressed every evening, though we never saw anybody,—I stole to the door after her, and caught her little pink ear outside the door in the half-lighted hall. She gave a little shriek when I came suddenly behind her. I believe she thought I was angry, and came to take her punishment into my own hand.

“What did you say to your godmamma, Sara?” said I.

“Nothing,” said the perverse child. Then, after a little pause, “I told her that your Mr. Luigi was gone, godmamma; and that he was a very pretty-behaved young man; and asked her who the Countess Sermoneta was.”

“You did?”

“Yes; but she did not mind,” said Sara. “I am not sure if she heard me; she gave such a long sigh, half a year long. Godmamma Sarah’s heart must be very deep down if it took that to ease it; and melted all out, as if frost was over somehow, and thaw had come.”

“Ah! and what more?” said I.

“Nothing more,” cried the child. “Don’t you think I have a little heart, godmamma? If she felt it so, could I go poking at her with that Countess’s name? Ah! you should have seen her. She thawed out as if the sun was shining and the frost gone.”

“Ah!” I cried again. It went to my heart as well. “Come down and talk, little Sara,” said I, and so went back to the drawing room, where she sat looking so eased and relieved, poor soul, poor soul! I was very miserable. I had not the heart to ring for lights. I sat down in my chair with all sorts of dismal thoughts in my heart. She did not speak either. She was rubbing her rheumatic fingers, and taking in all the warmth and comfort. She looked as if somehow she had escaped—good heavens! from what?{143}

Chapter IX.

NEXT day that change upon Sarah’s whole appearance continued, and throughout the whole week. She was like herself once more. Carson made no more stealthy expeditions out of doors before my sister set out on her drive. Sarah did not stir in her chair and eye me desperately when the door opened. She even seemed to fall deaf again with that old, soft, slight hardness of hearing which I used to suspect in her. There was no pressure on her heart to startle her ears.

While I in the meantime tried my best to think nothing about it, tried to turn a blank face towards what might happen, and to take the days as they came. I have not come to be fifty without having troubles in plenty. For the last dozen years, to be sure, there had been only common embarrassments. The fewer people one has to love, the fewer pleasures and joys are possible, the less grow our sorrows. It is cold comfort, but it is a fact notwithstanding. Grief and delight go hand in hand in full lives; when we are stinted down into a corner both fall off. We suffer less, we enjoy less; we suffer nothing, we enjoy nothing in time, only common pricks and vexations, which send no thrill to the slumbering heart. So we had been living for years; happy enough, nothing to disturb us; or not happy at all, if you choose to take that view of the subject; true either way. Not such a thing as real emotion lighting upon our house, only secondary feelings; no love to speak of, but kindness; no joy, but occasional pleasure; no grief, but sometimes regret. A very composed life, which had been broken in upon quite suddenly by a bewildering shadow,—tragic fear, doubt, alarm,—sudden mystery no ways explainable, or madness explainable but hopeless. In this pause of dismay and doubt, while the dark, unknown, inexplicable figure had turned away from the door a little, it was hard to turn from its fascination and go quietly back to that quiet life.

Little Sara Cresswell came much about me in the library in those days; she interested herself in my business much; she{144} tried to interfere with my work and help me, as the kitten called it. All the outlays on the estate, the works that were going on, the improvements I loved to set a-going—which did not all come to anything,—and the failures, of which to be sure there were plenty—pleased the impatient creature mightily. I was considered rather speculative and fanciful among the Cheshire squires; they did not approve of my goings on; they thought me a public nuisance for preserving no game, and making a fuss about cottages. But I am sorry to say little Sara did not agree with the squires. She thought my small bits of improvements very slow affairs indeed; she grew indignant at my stinginess and contracted ideas. She thought any little I did were just preliminary attempts not worth mentioning. When was I to begin the work in earnest she wanted to know?

“What work, Sara?”

“What work? Why, here are you, godmamma, an old lady—you will never grow any wiser or any better than you are,” cried the intolerable child. “You can’t get any more good out of all that belongs to the Park than just your nice little dinners, and teas, and the carriage, and the servants, and, perhaps, half-a-dozen dresses in the year,—though I do believe three would be nearer true,—and to keep all these farms, and fields, and meadows, and orchards, and things, all for godmamma Sarah and you! Don’t you feel frightened sometimes when you wake up suddenly at night?”

“You saucy little puss!—why?” cried I.

“To think of the poor,” said Sara, with a solemn look. She held herself straight up, and looked quite dignified as she turned her reproving eyes on me. “Quantities of families without any homes, quantities of little children growing up worse than your pigs, godmamma, quantities of people starving, and living, and crowding, and quarrelling in black streets not as broad as this room, with courts off from them, like those horrid, frightful places in Liverpool. While out here you are living in your big rooms, in your big house, with the green park all round and round you, and farmers, and gardeners, and cottagers, and servants, and all sorts of people, working to make you comfortable; with more money than you know what to do with, and everything belonging to yourself, and nobody to interfere with you. And why have you any right to it more than them?”

Little Sara’s figure swelled out, and her dark eyes shone bright as she was speaking. It took away my breath. “Are you a Chartist, child?” I cried.{145}

“I think I am a Socialist,” said Sara, very composedly; “but I don’t quite know. I think we should all go shares. I have told you so a dozen times, godmamma. Suppose papa has twelve hundred a year,—I do believe he has a great deal more,—isn’t it dreadful? and all, not out of the ground like yours, but from worrying people into lawsuits and getting them into trouble. Well, suppose it was all divided among a dozen families, a hundred a year. People can live very comfortably, I assure you, godmamma, upon a hundred a year.”

“Who told you, child?” said I.

“The curate has only eighty,” said Sara; “his wife dresses the baby and makes all its things herself, and they have very comfortable little dinners. The window in my old nursery—the end window you know—just overlooks their little parlour. They look so snug and comfortable when the baby is good. To be sure it must be a bore taking one’s dinner with the baby in one’s lap; and I am sure she is always in a fright about visitors coming. I think it would be quite delightful to give them one of papa’s hundreds a year.”

“In addition to their eighty?” said I. “Why, then, there is an end of going shares.”

Sara coughed and stammered for a moment over this, quite at fault; but not being troubled either about logic or consistency, soon plunged on again as bold as ever.

“Whatever you say, godmamma, people can live quite comfortable on a hundred a year. I have reckoned it all up; and I don’t see really any reason why anybody should have more. Only fancy what a quantity of hundreds a year you and godmamma Sarah might distribute if you would. And, instead of that, you only build a few cottages and give a few people work—work! as if they had not as good a right as anybody to their living. People were not born only to work, and to be miserable, and to die.”

“People were born to do a great many harder things than you think for, Sara,” said I. “Do you think I am going to argue with a little velvet kitten like you? I advise you to try your twelve families on the twelve hundreds a year. But what do you suppose you would do if your godmamma and I, having no heirs, left the Park to you, and you had your will, and might do what you pleased?”

What put this into my head I cannot say; but I gave it utterance on the spur of the moment. Sara stared at me for a moment, with her pretty mouth falling a little open in astonishment. Then she jumped up and clapped her hands. “Do, godmamma!{146}” she cried out, “oh do; such a glorious scatter I should make! everybody should have enough, and we’d build the loveliest little chapel in existence to St. Millicent, if there is such a saint. I have always thought it would be perfectly delightful to be a great heiress. Godmamma, do!”

To see her all sparkling with delight and eagerness quite charmed me. Had she ever heard a hint of being left heiress to the Park, of course she must have looked wretched and conscious. Anybody would that had thought of such a great acquisition. Sara had not an idea of that. She thought it the best fun possible. She clapped her hands and cried, “Do, godmamma!” She was as bold as an innocent young lion, without either guile or fear.

“It should be tied down so that you could not part with a single acre, nor give away above five pounds at a time,” said I.

“Ah!” said Sara, thoughtfully; “I dare say there would be a way of cheating you somehow though, godmamma,” she said, waking up again with a touch of malice. “People are always cheated after they are dead. I knew a dear old lady that would not have her portrait taken for anybody but one friend whom she loved very much; but, what do you think? after she was gone they found the wicked wretch of a photographic man that kept the thing,—the negative they call it,—and printed scores of portraits, and let everybody have one. I would have given my little finger to have had one; but to go and cheat her, and baulk her after she was dead, and all for love, that is cruel. I would rather go against what you said right out, godmamma, than go against what I knew was in your heart.”

“Ah, Sara, you don’t know anything about it,” said I. “If you had a great deal of money all to yourself, and could do anything you liked with it,—as heaven knows you may have soon enough!—and were just as foolish with it as you intend, how disgusted you would be with your charity, to be sure, after a while! What a little misanthrope you would grow! What mercenary, discontented wretches you would think all the people! I think I can see you fancying how much good you are doing, and yet doing only harm instead. Then that disagreeable old fellow, experience, would take you in hand. The living are cheated as well as the dead. We are all cheated, and cheat ourselves. Nothing would make me go and have my portrait taken; but I don’t deny if I found out that people had got it spontaneously, and handed it about among themselves all for love, I should not be angry. You{147} are a little goose. You don’t know what manner of spirit you are of.”

“It is very easy talking, godmamma,” said Sara. “I was watching yesterday when godmamma Sarah went out for her drive. The groom and the boy were hard at work ever so long with the carriage and horses before it was ready. I saw them out of the window of Alice’s room while she was mending my dress for me. Then came old Jacob to the door with the carriage. Then came godmamma Sarah leaning on Carson’s arm to go downstairs. So there were two great horses and four human creatures,—three men and a woman,—all employed for ever so long to give one old lady a half-hour’s drive, when a walk would have done her twenty times as much good,” concluded the child hastily, under her breath.

“You speak in a very improper manner;—an old lady! You ought to have more respect for your godmamma,” said I, indignantly. “Your godmamma has nothing that is not perfectly suitable to her condition of life.”

“But godmamma Sarah is an old lady, whether I am respectful or not,” said the girl stoutly. “When I see ladies driving about I wonder at them. Two great horses that could fight or plough; and two great men that might do the same; and all occupied about one lady’s drive! If I were queen I would do away with drives! Ah! shouldn’t I like to be Semiramis, the Semiramis of the story, that persuaded the king to let her be queen for a day, and turned everything upside down, and then——”

“Cut off the king’s head. Would you do it, Sara, after he had trusted you?” said I.

Sara came to a sudden pause. “I would not mind about cutting off his head; but, to be sure, being trusted is different. As if it were not a story, not a word true! But please, godmamma,” cried the wild creature, making me a curtsey, “don’t leave me the Park. I don’t want to be trusted, please. I want to have my own way.”

Which was the truest word she ever said.{148}

Chapter X.

THE days wore away thus in talks with little Sara, and vague expeditions out of doors, a misty sort of confused life. I felt as one feels when one knows of some dreadful storm, or trial, that has passed over for a little, only to come again by and by. After seeing Sarah show so much feeling of one kind and another,—distress, anxiety, and apprehension one day, and comfort and relief another,—I could not bind myself with the thought that this could possibly pass off and come to nothing. Such things don’t happen once and get done with. There was a secret reason somewhere working all the same, either in her own mind alone, or in the past and her history as well; and one time or other it must make its appearance again. Whether it was her mind giving way; and in that case it did not matter whether Mr. Luigi came back or not, for if he did not appear, fancy would, doubtless seize upon some other; or whether it was some person this young man resembled, or some part of her life which she was afraid to hear of again which he recalled to her, in any case it was sure to break out some other day; and I cannot tell what a strange uncomfortable excitement it brought into my life, and how the impulse of watching came upon me. Sarah’s smallest motions got a meaning in my eyes. I could not take things easily as I had used to do. She had always, of course, been very important in the house; but she had been a kind of still life for a long time now. She would not be consulted about leases or improvements, or anything done on the estate. So long as everything was very comfortable and nice about her,—the fire just to her liking, which Ellis managed to a nicety; the cooking satisfactory; her wools nicely matched, and plenty of new patterns; her screen just in the proper position, protecting her from the draught; and the Times always ready when she was ready for it,—Sarah got on, as it appeared, very comfortably. Despite all that, to be sure she would get angry sometimes; but I was used to it, and did not mind much. Only to think that a person, who had either in the past or in her own mind{149} something to work her up to such a pitch of excitement, could live such a life! She seemed to have quite resumed it now with a strange kind of unreasoning self-consolation. If it was the Italian that disturbed her, how could she persuade herself that he was not coming back again? Her quiet falling back into her old way was inexplicable to me.

I seemed to myself to stand just then in a very strange position. Sarah on one side of me all shut up and self secluded, with a whole life all full of strange incidents, dazzling, brilliant, unforgotten years, actual things that had happened locked in her silent memory; and little Sara on tiptoe, on the other side, eager to plunge in her own way into the life she dreamt of, but knew nothing about. All the wild notions of the little girl, ridiculous-wise opinions, poor dear child, her principles of right and justice with which she would rule the world, and all her innocent break-downs and failures, ever in her fancy, came pouring down upon me, pelting me at all times. And on the other side was my sister, content to spend her life in that easy-chair, my sister whom I knew nothing about, whose memory could go out of the Park drawing-room into exciting scenes and wonderful events which I had never heard of. How strange it was! I don’t remember much that I did in those days. I lived under a confused, uneasy cloud, ready enough to be amused with Sara’s philosophy. I am not sure that I was not all the more disposed to smile at and tease the dear child, and be amused by all the new ideas she started, for the troubled sensation in my own mind. Nothing could have happened, I think, that would have surprised me. Sometimes it came into my head whether my father could have done, or tried to do, something when he was abroad, to cut us off from the succession; and once I jumped bolt upright out of my seat, thinking—what if my father had married abroad and had a son, and we were living usurpers, and Sarah knew of it! How that idea did set my heart beating! If I had not been so much frightened for her passions, I should have gone to her directly and questioned her. But to be sure my father was not the man to leave off his own will for any consideration about his daughters; and would have been only too proud to have had a son. After thinking, I gave up that idea; but my heart went at a gallop for hours after, and I should not have been surprised to hear that anything had happened, or was going to happen. Really, anything real and actual, however bad, would have been a relief from the mystery which preyed upon me.{150}

“Papa is coming to fetch me, to-morrow,” said Sara Cresswell, in rather a discontented tone. “There is to be some ridiculous ball, or something. Can anybody imagine anything so absurd as asking people to a ball when you want to show you’re sorry to part with them? and papa might have known, if he had ever taken the trouble to think, that I have no dress——”

“Sara, child! how many hundreds a year do you give your dressmaker?” said I.

“That has nothing whatever to do with it, godmamma,” said Sara, making a slightly confused pause; and then resuming, with a defiant look into my face,—“if I might give one hundred a year away out of all papa has got, I could live upon one dress in a year; but what is the use of shillings and sixpences to beggars, or of saving up a few pounds additional to papa? I don’t call that any economy. If we were living according to nature, it would be quite different; then I should want no ball-dresses. Besides,” continued the refractory creature, “I don’t want to go; and if papa insists on me going, why shouldn’t I get some pleasure out of it? Everything else will be just the same as usual, of course.—Godmamma,” exclaimed Sara suddenly, with a new thought, “will you ask papa anything about this business? it is not done with yet. He will come back, and all will have to be gone over again. Will you mention it to papa?”

She had been thinking of it too,—she, thoughtless as she was, found something in it not of a kind to die away and be passed over. I could not mistake, nor pretend to mistake, what she meant; it was to be read in her very eyes.

“My dear, I have told you already that your godmamma can have nothing whatever to do with this young man,” said I, with a little irritation; “if she is out of sorts it is nobody’s business. Do you fancy she could keep up an acquaintance with an Italian countess for more than twenty years, and I know nothing of it? Nonsense! Some fancy, or some old recollections, or something, had an effect upon her just at the moment. Speak to your father! Why, you told me he knew nothing about the Countess Sermoneta. Shall I ask him to feel your godmamma’s pulse and prescribe for her? or do you suppose, even if he were fit for that, your godmamma would allow it, without feeling herself ill? Your papa is highly respectable, and has always been much trusted by the family. But there are things with which one’s solicitor has nothing whatever to do; there are things which belong to one’s self, and to nobody else in the world.”{151}

Poor little Sara! I did not mean to mortify the child! She grew crimson with pride and annoyance. I had no intention of reminding her that she was only the attorney’s daughter; but she reminded herself of it on the instant, with all the pride of a duchess. She did not say a syllable, the little proud creature; but turned away with such an air, her cheek burning, her eyes flashing, her little foot spurning the ground. She went off with a great sweep of her full skirts, disturbing the air to such an extent that I quite felt the breeze on my cheek. Perhaps it was just as well. Of course there was a difference between the Mortimers and the Cresswells. Because we did not stand on our dignity, people were so ready to forget what they owed to us. It was just as well the spoiled child could learn, for once in her life, that it was all of grace and favour that she was made so much of at the Park.

I made quite sure that she went to her own room directly, to see after the packing of her things, with some thoughts of starting for home at once, without even waiting for her father. However, when she began to talk to her little maid Alice, about that ball-dress, I daresay the other matter went out of the child’s head. The next that I saw of her was when she made a rush downstairs to ask me for postage stamps, with a letter in her hand, all closed ready to go off. She was still pouting and ill-tempered; but she contrived to show me the address of the letter. Alas, poor dear Bob Cresswell! it was to the Chester milliner, the best one we had, no doubt ordering a dress for the ball. Yet I do believe, for all that, the child could really have done what she said. I believe, if some great misfortune had happened, and her father had lost all his money, Sara’s first impulse would have been to clap her hands and cry, “Now everybody shall see!” Of course it is very dreadful to lose one’s fortune and become poor and have to work. But I wonder are there no other spoiled creatures in the world like Sara, who have their own ideas about such calamities, and think they would be the most famous fun in the world? Too much of anything makes a revulsion in the mind. Such over-indulged, capricious, spoiled children have often hardy bold spirits, and would be thankful for some real, not sham necessity. But, in the meantime, she had not the slightest idea of doing without her ball-dress.{152}

Chapter XI.

MR. CRESSWELL came next day accordingly. I confess the very sight of him was a sort of solace to me in my perplexities; that solid steady man, with his sharp keen eyes and looks, as if he knew everything going on round about him. To be sure, being a lawyer, he must have pretended to know a great many more things than he could have any insight into. Still, when one is in great doubt, and cannot tell where to turn, the sight of one of these precise men, with a vast knowledge about other people, and no affairs of their own of any consequence, is a kind of relief to one. Such men can throw light on quantities of things quite out of their way. I could not help saying to myself, though I had snubbed Sara for saying it, that he might, perhaps, have helped to clear up this mystery. But, of course, he was always a last resort if anything more happened. They were to have dinner before they went away, and Mr. Cresswell reached the Park by noon; so there was plenty of time to tell him anything. He came into the drawing-room rubbing his hands. Sarah had just come down-stairs and taken her seat. She was looking just as she always did, no tremble in her head to speak of, her attention quite taken up with her wools, attending to what was said, but with no anxiety about it. When Mr. Cresswell came in her face changed a little; she looked as if all at once she had thought of something, and gave me a sign, which I knew meant he was to come to her. I brought him directly, not without a great deal of curiosity. It was a warm day for the season; and just immediately before the fire, where the good man had to sit to listen, was not just the most comfortable position in the world. He even contrived to make a kind of appeal to me. Couldn’t I hear what it was, and tell him afterwards? I took no notice; I confess it was rather agreeable to me than otherwise,—to set him down there to get roasted before the fire.

“I want to know what you have done about Richard Mortimer,” said Sarah in her shrill whisper; “there has been no advertisement in the Times nor the Chester papers. I hope you are not losing time; what have you done?”{153}

It struck me that Mr. Cresswell looked just a little abashed and put out by this question; but it might be the fire. He put up his hand to shelter his face, and hitched round his chair; then shrugged his shoulders a little, insinuating that she was making far too much of it. “My dear lady, advertisements are the last resort. I hope to do without any such troublesome process,” said Mr. Cresswell. “All the Mortimers in England will rouse up at the sight of an advertisement. I should prefer to take a little time. Information is always to be obtained privately when one has any clue at all.”

“Then have you obtained any private information?” said Sarah, in rather a sharp tone. She had no inclination to let him slide away till she was quite satisfied.

“Such things take their time,” said Mr. Cresswell, devoting all his attention to screening himself from the fire. “How you ladies can bear cooking yourselves up so, on this mild day, I cannot understand! I can hear you perfectly, Miss Mortimer, thank you; your voice is as distinct as it always was, though, unfortunately not the same tone. What a voice your sister used to have, to be sure!—went through people’s hearts like a bell.”

This was addressed to me, in the idea of being able to wriggle out of the conversation altogether. It is my conviction he had not taken a single step in the matter of Richard Mortimer; but if he thought he could shake off Sarah’s inquiries so, he deceived himself. She never was, all her life, to be turned from her own way.

“It is sometime now since we instructed you on this subject,” said Sarah. “If you have not made any discovery, at least you can tell us what you are doing. Milly, there, like a fool, does not care. She talks of Providence dropping us an heir at our door,—a foundling, I suppose, with its name on a paper pinned to its frock,” said Sarah, growing rather excited, and turning an angry look on me.

To my astonishment Mr. Cresswell also looked at me; his was a guilty, conscious, inquiring look. What strange creatures we all are! This shrewd lawyer, far from thinking that Sarah’s words referred to any mysterious trouble or derangement in her own mind, took them up, knowing his own thoughts, with all the quickness of guilt, to refer to Sara! He thought we had probably had a quarrel about leaving her our heiress; that I had stood up for her, and Sarah had opposed it. So he turned his eyes to me to see if I would make any private telegraphic communication to him of the state of affairs. And{154} when he found nothing but surprise in my eyes, turned back a little disappointed, but quite cool and ready to stand to his arms, though he had failed of this mark.

“The truth is, there is nothing so easy as finding an heir. I’ll ensure you to hunt him up from the backwoods, or China, or anywhere in the world. There’s a fate connected with heirs,” said Mr. Cresswell, pleasantly, “whether one wants them or not they turn up with all their certificates in their pocket-books! Ah! they’re a long-lived, sharp-sighted race; they’re sure to hear somehow when they’re wanted. Don’t be afraid—we’ll find him, sure enough. If you had made up your minds to disown him, and shut him out, he’d turn up all the same.”

“Milly,” cried Sarah suddenly, with her little shriek of passion, all so unexpected and uncalled for that I fairly jumped from the table I was standing at, and had nearly overturned her screen on the top of her, “what do you mean by that fixed look at me? How dare you look so at me? Did I speak of disowning any one? Richard Mortimer, when he’s found, shall have the park that moment, if I lived a dozen years after it. Nobody shall venture, so long as I live, to cast suspicious looks at me!”

I declare, freely, I was unconscious of looking at her as though I had been a hundred miles away at the moment! I stood perfectly still, gaping with consternation and amazement. Such an unwarranted, unexpected accusation, fairly took away my breath. Mr. Cresswell, accustomed to observe people, was startled, and woke up from those dreams of his own which clouded his eyesight in this particular case. He looked at her keenly for a moment, then, turned with a rapid question in his eyes to me; he seemed to feel in a moment there was somehow some strange new element in the matter. But, of course, I had no answer to make to him, either with voice or eyes.

“I was not looking at you at all, Sarah,” faltered I. “I was not looking at anything in particular. Nobody is going to be disowned, that I know of. Nobody is seeking our property, that I know of,” I said again involuntarily, my eye turning with a kind of stupid consciousness, the very last feeling in the world which I wished or intended to show, upon Mr. Cresswell, who was quite watching my looks to see what this little episode meant.

He coloured up in a moment. He stumbled up from his chair, looking very much confused. He dared not pretend to{155} know what I meant, nor show himself conscious, even that I had looked at him. He went across the room to the window, looked out, and came back again. It was odd to see such a man, accustomed and trained to conceal his sentiments, so betrayed into showing them. When he sat down again he turned his face to the fire, and almost his back to me. Matters had changed. It appeared I was not such a safe confidante as he had supposed.

“You shall very soon be satisfied about Mr. Richard Mortimer,” he said, looking into the fire. “Don’t be afraid; I am on the scent; you may trust it to me. But, really, I don’t wonder to see Miss Milly take it very reasonably. What do you want with heirs yet? If I had any thoughts of that kind, I should put all my powers in motion to get that little kitten of mine married. If I leave her by herself she will throw away my poor dear beautiful dividends in handfuls. But, somehow, the idea doesn’t oppress me; and, of course, I am older than any lady in existence can be supposed to be. I am——”

“Hold your tongue, Cresswell,” cried Sarah crossly. “I daresay we know what each other’s ages are. Attend to business, please. I want Richard Mortimer found, I tell you. You can tell him his cousin Sarah wants him. He will come, however far off he may be, when he hears that. You can put it in the papers, if you please.”

Saying this Sarah gave her muslin scarf a little twitch over her elbow, and held up her head with a strange little vain self-satisfied movement. Oh, how Mr. Cresswell did look at her! how he chuckled in his secret soul! From what I had seen once before I understood perfectly well what he meant. He had once taken the liberty to fall in love with Sarah Mortimer himself; and now to see the old faded beauty putting on one of her old airs, and reckoning on the fidelity of a man who, no doubt—it was to be hoped, or what was to become of our search for heirs?—had married and forgotten all about her years ago—tickled him beyond measure. He felt himself quite revenged when he saw her self-complacence. He ventured to chuckle at it secretly. I should have liked, above all things, to box his ears.

“Ah! to be sure; I’ll use all possible means immediately. It’s to be hoped he has ten children,” said Mr. Cresswell, with a very quiet private laugh. Sarah did not observe that he was laughing at her. I believe such an idea could never have entered her head. She began, with an habitual motion she{156} had got whenever she left off knitting, to rub her fingers and stoop to the fire.

“And I insist you should come and report to us what you are doing,” said Sarah; “and never mind Milly; see me. It is I who am interested. Milly, as I tell you, thinks Providence will drop her an heir at the door.”

What could she mean by these spiteful sneering suggestions? I had thought no more of heirs for many a day—never since I got involved in this bewildering business, which I could see no way through. Her sudden attack sent a little thrill of terror through me. I was casting suspicious looks at her; an heir was to be dropped at our door; somebody was plotting against her fortune and honour. Good heavens! what could it mean but one thing? Mad people are always watched, pursued, persecuted, thwarted. I was cast from one guess to another, as if from wave to wave of a sea. I came back to that idea again; and trembled in spite of myself to think of little Sara and her father leaving us, and of being left alone to watch the insane haze spreading over her mind. It was sure to spread if it was there.

Chapter XII.

I WILL not undertake to say that we were a particularly sociable party at dinner that day. The stranger, Mr. Cresswell, who might have been supposed likely to give us a little news, and refresh us with the air of out of doors, was constrained and uncomfortable with the idea of having been found out. I am sure it was the last idea in the world which I wanted to impress upon him. But still, in spite of myself, I had betrayed it. Then Sara, without the faintest idea of her father’s uneasiness, had a strong remembrance of my unlucky{157} words on the previous day, and was very high and stately, by way of proving to me that an attorney’s daughter could be quite as proud as a Mortimer—as if I ever doubted it!—and a great deal prouder. For really, when one knows exactly what one’s position is, and that nobody can change it, one does not stand upon one’s defence for every unwary word. However, so it was that we were all a little constrained, and I felt as one generally feels after a pretty long visit, even from a dear friend, that to be alone and have the house to one’s self will just at first be a luxury in its way.

Not having any free and comfortable subject to talk of, we naturally fell to books, though Mr. Cresswell, I believe, never opened one. He wanted to know if Sara had been reading novels all day long, and immediately Sara turned to me to ask whether she might have one home with her which she had begun to read. Then there burst on my mind an innocent way of putting a question to Mr. Cresswell which I had been very anxious to ask without seeing any way to do it.

“I don’t think you will care for it when you do read it Sara; it is all about a poor boy who gets persuaded not to marry, and breaks the poor creature’s heart who is engaged to him, because there has been madness in the family. High principle, you know. I am not quite so sure in my own mind that I don’t think him a humbug; but I suppose it’s all very grand and splendid to you young people. Young persons should be trained very closely in their own family history if that is to be the way of it. I hope there never was a Cresswell touched in his brain, or, Sara, it would be a bad prospect for you.”

“If you suppose I should think it a bad prospect to do as Gilbert did, you are very wrong, godmamma,” cried Sara. “Why shouldn’t he have been quite as happy one way as the other? Do you suppose people must be married to be happy? it is dreadful to hear such a thing from you!”

“Well, to be sure, so it would be,” said I, “if I had said it. I am not unhappy that I know of, nor happy either. Oh, you little velvet kitten, how do you know how people get through life? One goes jog-jog, and does not stop to find out how one feels. But I’d rather—though I daresay it’s very bad philosophy—have creatures like you do things innocently, without being too particular about the results. Besides, I think Cheshire air is good steady air for the mind,—not exciting, you know. I don’t think we’ve many mad people in our county, eh, Mr. Cresswell?—Did you ever hear of a crazy Mortimer?”

Mr. Cresswell looked up at me a little curiously—which, to{158} be sure, not having any command over my face, or habit of concealing what I thought, made me look foolish. Sarah lifted her eyes, too, with a kind of smile which alarmed me—a smile of ridicule and superior knowledge. Perhaps I had exposed my fears to both of them by that question. I shrank away from it immediately, frightened at my own rashness. But Mr. Cresswell would not let me off.

“I have always heard that your grand-uncle Lewis was very peculiar,” said Mr. Cresswell,—“he that your cousin is descended from. Let us hope it doesn’t run in Mr. Richard’s family. I suppose there’s no reason to imagine that such a motive would prevent him from marrying?” he continued, rather spitefully. “And it was no wonder if Lewis Mortimer was a little queer. What could you expect? he was the second son! an unprecedented accident. The wonder is that something did not happen in consequence. Oh yes, he was soft a little, was your grand-uncle Lewis; but most likely it descended to him from his mother’s side of the house.”

“And my father was named after him!” cried I, with a certain dismay.

They all laughed, even Sarah. She kept her eyes on me as if searching through me to find out what I meant. She was puzzled a little, I could see. She saw it was not a mere idle question, and wanted to know the meaning. She was not conscious, thank heaven! and people are dismally conscious, as I have heard, when their brain is going. This was a little comfort to me under the unexpected answer I had got, for I certainly never heard of a crazy Mortimer all my life.

“If qualities descended by names, my little kitten would be in luck,” said Mr. Cresswell. “But here is a new lot of officers coming, Miss Milly; what would you recommend a poor man to do?”

“Papa!” cried Sara, with blazing indignation, “what does any one suppose the officers are to me? You say so to make my own godmamma despise me, though you know it isn’t true! I can bear anything that is true. That is why we always quarrel, papa and I. He does not mind what stories he tells, and thinks it good fun. I am not a flirt, nor never was—never, even when I was too young to know any better. No, godmamma, no more than you are!—nobody dares say it of me.”

We were just rising from table when she made this defence of herself. It was not quite true. I know she tormented that poor boy Wilde as if he had been a mouse, the{159} cruel creature; and I am perfectly convinced that she was much disappointed Mr. Luigi did not come to the Park, because she had precisely the same intentions with regard to him. I must allow, though I was very fond of Sara, that, professing to be mighty scornful and sceptical as to hearts breaking, she loved to try when she had it in her power. I daresay she was not conscious of her wicked arts, she used them by instinct; but it came to much the same thing in the end.

I went out of the room with her, under pretence of seeing that her boxes were nicely packed; I did not say anything about it, whether I thought her a flirt or not, and she quieted down immediately, with a perception that I had something to say. I drew her into the great window of the hall, when Sarah, and immediately after her Mr. Cresswell,—for, of course, to him our early dinner only served as lunch, and no man would dream of sitting over his wine at three o’clock in the afternoon, especially in a lady’s house,—had passed into the drawing-room. It was a great round bay-window, at one end of the hall, where our footmen used to lounge in my father’s time, when we kept footmen. It had our escutcheon in it, in painted glass, and the lower panes were obscured, I cannot tell why, unless because it made them look ugly. The hall was covered with matting, and the fire had been lighted that day, but must have gone out, it felt so cold.

“Sara, I wish to say to you—not that I don’t trust your discretion, my dear child;” said I, “but you might not think I cared—don’t say anything about your godmamma, or about this Mr. Luiggi, dear——”

I was quite prepared to see her resent this caution, but I was not prepared for the burst of saucy laughter with which the foolish little girl replied to me.

“Oh dear, godmamma, don’t be so comical! it isn’t Luiggi, it’s Luidgi, that’s how it sounds,” cried Sara. “To think of any one murdering the beautiful Italian so! Don’t you really think it’s a beautiful name?”

“I freely confess I never could see any beauty in Italian, nor any other outlandish tongue,” said I. “Luidgi, be it, if that’s better. I can’t see how it makes one morsel of difference; but you will remember what I say?”

“Luigi simply means Lewis; and how should you be pleased to hear Lewis mispronounced? You said it was your father’s name, godmamma,” said the incorrigible child.

I turned away, shaking my head. It was no use saying anything more; most likely she would pay attention to what I{160} said, though she was so aggravating; oh, but she was contrairy. Never man spoke a truer word. Nevertheless, as she stood there in her velvet jacket, with her close-cropped pretty curls, and her eyes sparkling with laughter, I could not help admiring her myself. I don’t mind saying I am very inconsistent. A little while before, I had been thinking it would be rather pleasant to have the house quiet and to ourselves. Now, I could not help thinking what a gap it would leave when she was gone. Then the child, who at home was led into every kind of amusement (to be sure procurable in Cheshire, must be added to this), had been so contented, after all, to live with two old women, whom nobody came to see, except now and then in a morning call; and though she was so wicked, and provoking, and careless, she was at the same time so good and clever (when she pleased) and captivating. One could have put her in the corner, and kissed her the next moment. As she stood there in the light of the great window, I, who had left her, shaking my head, and reflecting how contrairy she was, went back to kiss her, though I gave her a little shake as well. That is how one always feels to these creatures, half-and-half; ready to punish them and to pet them all at once.

However, after a while (though it was no easy matter getting Sara’s trunks on the carriage—I wonder Mr. Cresswell ventured on it, for his poor horse’s sake), they went away; and feeling just a little dull after they were gone, and as it was just that good-for-nothing time, which is the worst of an early dinner, the interval between dinner and tea, I set out for a walk down to the village. It was Sarah’s day for her drive, and she passed me on the road, and kissed her hand to me out of the carriage window. No blinds down now; the horses going at their steady pace, rather slowly than otherwise, wheeling along through the soft hedgerows which began to have some buds on them. I wonder what Jacob thought of it; I wonder what Williams at the lodge had to say on the subject. Such a strange unreasonable change!{161}

Chapter XIII.

I CALLED at a good many houses in the village. I am thankful to say I have rarely found myself unwelcome, to the best sort of people at least. Most of us have known each other so long, and have such a long stretch of memory to go back upon together, that we belong to each other in a way. As for the scapegraces, they are a little frightened of me, I confess. They say, Miss Milly comes a-worriting, when I speak my mind to them. I can’t say the men reverence me, nor the women bless my influence, as I read they do with some ladies in some of Miss Kate Roberts’ books. But we are good friends on the whole. When the men have been drinking, and spent all their wages, or saucy, and put out of their place, then they try their best to deceive me, to be sure; but I know all their little contrivances pretty well by this time. They don’t mean much harm after all, only to persuade one that things are not so bad as they look.

After I had given a glance into the shop where I saw Mr. Luigi’s fat servant,—I only saw him once, but yet the place seemed full of that fat, funny, good-humoured, outlandish figure, with his bows and smiles, and loquacious foreign speech, that poor Mrs. Taylor commiserated so deeply—I stepped across to the rectory to make a call there. The poor young shopkeeper, who had a night-class for the men and grown lads, and was really an intelligent, well-meaning young man, had been confiding his troubles to me. They did not care a bit about learning; they did not even want to read. When they did read it was the most foolish books! Poor young Taylor’s heart was breaking over their stupidity. And then, to keep a shop, even a bookshop, hurt his “feelings,” poor lad. He had been brought up for a teacher’s profession, he said—he even had some experience in “tuition.” He had thought he could make a home for his mother and his little sister; and now Dr. Appleby was grumbling that he did not succeed, and thought it his own fault! Poor young fellow! to be sure, he should have gone stolidly through with it, and had no business to have any “feelings.”{162} But, you see, people will be foolish in every condition of life.

So I stepped across the road to call on Miss Kate, thinking of him all the way; thinking of him and that unknown young Italian, only once seen, whom the apparition of the fat servant in Taylor’s shop somehow connected with the young shopkeeper. How Mr. Luigi had forced himself into all my thoughts! and yet the only one fact I knew about him was, that he was looking for an apocryphal lady whom nobody ever heard of! Should I have thought no more about him but for Sarah’s mysterious agitation? I really cannot tell. Again and again his voice came back to me, independent of Sarah. Whose voice was it? Where had he got that hereditary tone?

Miss Kate was in, for a great wonder. She was wonderfully active in the parish. She was far more the rector, except in the pulpit, than good Dr. Roberts was. I am sure he was very fortunate to have such an active sister. I don’t think anything ever happened, within a space of three or four miles round the village, that Miss Kate was not at the bottom of it. Of course I expected to hear everything over again that Dr. Roberts had told us about Mr. Luigi. But, so long as Sarah was not present, I could take that quite easily. Indeed, I wished so much to know more of this stranger, somehow, that I really felt I should be glad to hear all that they had to say.

“I was indeed very much interested in the young man,” said Miss Kate, starting the subject almost immediately, as I expected. “I think great efforts should be made to lay hold of every one that comes out of his poor benighted country. I said so to the Doctor; but the Doctor’s views, you know, are very charitable. Mr. Hubert, however, quite agreed with me. I asked him to come back when he came to this part of the country again, and said I should be very glad to have some serious conversation with him. He stared, but he was very polite; only, poor young man, his thoughts are all upon this lady. I have no doubt he thought it was that business I wanted to talk to him about.”

“But I suppose, like Dr. Roberts, you can throw no light upon her; who she is, or where she is?” said I. “It is strange he should seem so positive she was here, and yet nobody remembers her. For my own part, if I had once heard it, I am sure I should never have forgotten that name. I have a wonderful memory for names.”

“Very strange no doubt,” said Miss Kate, with a little cough. “And then, that man of his. Alas, what an imprisoned{163} soul! To think he should be in the very midst of light and faithful preaching, and yet not be able to derive any benefit from it! I never regretted more deeply not having kept up my own Italian studies. And poor Mr. Hubert—but you would hear all about that; the Doctor does so delight in an amusing story. They could not understand each other in the very least, you know. Ah, what a matter it would be to get hold of that poor Domenico—that’s his name. Why, he might be quite an apostle among his countrymen, when he got back. But nothing can be done till he can be taught English, or some agency can be found out in Italian. I can’t tell you how much interest I feel in these poor darkened creatures. And to think they should be in the midst of the light, and no possibility of bringing them under its influence! I don’t speak of the master, of course, who knows English very well; but I am not one that am a respecter of persons,—the servant is quite as much, if not more, interesting to me.”

“If they stay long I daresay he’ll learn English,” I suggested modestly; “but it will be a sad pity if the poor gentleman has come so far to seek out this lady, and can’t find any trace of her. I promised him to do all I could to find out for him; but nobody seems ever to have heard of her. It will be a thousand pities if he has all his trouble for no end.”

“Ah, Miss Milly! let us hope he may acquire something else that will far more than repay him,” said Miss Kate; “disappointments are often great blessings in directing one’s mind away from worldly things. We were all very much interested in him, I assure you. Mr. Hubert promised to write to a friend of his in Chester to ask if he could give him any assistance. If it were only for the sake of that strange resemblance,—the Doctor would tell you, of course, the resemblance which struck both him and myself?”

“No,” cried I; “did you find out anybody he was like? I only saw him in the dark, and could not make out his face; but his voice has haunted me ever since. I was sure I knew the voice.”

“I wonder the Doctor did not mention it,” said Miss Kate, with a little importance. “The truth is, it struck us both a good deal; a resemblance to your family, Miss Milly.”

I don’t know whether I was most disposed to sink down upon my chair or start up from it with a cry; I did neither, however.

“To my family?” I gasped out. {164} “Yes; it was very singular,” said Miss Kate; “I daresay, of course, it was only one of those accidental likenesses. I remember being once thought very like your sister. How strange you should think you knew his voice! You have some relations in Italy, perhaps?”

“Not that I know of,” said I, feeling very faint. I cannot tell what I was afraid of; but I felt myself trembling and shaken; and I durst not get up and go out either, or Miss Kate would have had it all over the parish before night, that something had gone wrong at the Park.

But I don’t remember another word she said. I kept my seat, and answered her till I thought I might reasonably be supposed to have stayed long enough. Then I left the rectory, my mind in the strangest agitation. That this stranger, who had driven Sarah half mad, should be like our family; what a bewildering, extraordinary thing to think of! But stranger still, at this moment, when I had just heard such a wonderful aggravation of my perplexity—that voice of his which had haunted me so long, and which I felt sure I could identify at once, if the person it once belonged to was named to me, vanished entirely from my mind as if by some conjuring trick. It was extraordinary—it looked almost supernatural. I could no more recall that tone, which I had recalled with perfect freshness and ease when I entered the rectory garden, than I could clear up the extraordinary puzzle thus gathering closer and closer round all my thoughts.

In this state of mind I hurried home, feeling really as if there must be something supernatural in the whole business, and too much startled to ask any definite questions of myself. When I had reached the house, and was going upstairs, I met one of the maids coming down, who had been upon some errand into Sarah’s room. This careless girl had left—a thing never even seen when my sister happened to be out for her drives—the room-door open. Before I knew what I was doing, I had stepped inside. I can’t tell what I wanted—whether to speak with Sarah or to spy upon her, or to listen at her door. Carson and she were in the dressing-room, I could hear. And now I will tell you what I did. I don’t think I was responsible for my actions at that moment; but whether or not, this is what I did. I stepped forward stealthily, stooped down to the keyhole, and listened at the door!

There! I have said it out. Nobody else knows it to this day. I, who called myself an honourable person, listened at my sister’s door. For the first five minutes I was so agitated{165} by my strange position that, of course, I did not hear a word they said. But after a little I began to hear indistinctly that they were talking of some letter that had better be burned—that Carson was speaking in a kind of pleading tone, and Sarah very harsh and hard, her words easier to be distinguished in that hissing whisper of hers than if she had spoken in the clearest voice imaginable. I can’t say I was much the better for the conversation, till at last, just as I was going away, came this, which made my heart beat so loud that I thought it must be heard inside that closed mysterious door:

“And to think they should have called him Lewis, too; though the English is a deal the prettiest. Ah, ma’am,” cried Carson, with a little stifled sob, “it showed love in the heart!”

“Yes, for the Park,” said Sarah, in her whisper. I dared not stay a moment longer, for I heard them both advancing to the door. I fled to my own room, and dropped down there on my sofa stupified. My head ached as if it would burst. My heart thumped and beat as if it would leap out of my bosom Lewis! my father’s name—and, good heaven!—the voice! What did it—what could it mean?{166}



Chapter I.

WHAT a strange little quaint place Chester is! I thought I should never have been tired walking along those ramparts, looking over the soft green slopes, and up to the blue hills in the distance, and down here and there upon the grey old churches and the quiet busy little town; but at first we had our lodgings to look for, which was a much more serious matter. I had made up my mind from the very first not to expect to be called upon, nor to go into society; or rather I had set my face against any chance of it, knowing always that we could not do it on the little money we had. But now I found out that Harry was not content with this. He was very anxious to have better lodgings, where ladies could come to see me. I should say dearer lodgings, for better than Mrs. Saltoun’s we could not have had. He wanted me to have quite a drawing-room instead of our nice, cosy, old-fashioned parlour, which was good for everything; and then to think people might be asking us to dinner, and how many embarrassments and troubles we might meet with! For it is embarrassing to be asked out, and to be obliged to let the people suppose you are sulky, and ill-tempered, and won’t go; or else to invent excuses which, besides being sinful, are always sure to be found out; when the real reason is simply{167} that one has not a dress, and cannot afford to get one just then. The other ladies in the regiment might wonder what sort of person I could be, and tell each other that poor young Langham had married some poor girl, and been very foolish. It was exactly true—so he had; and as I can’t say I had any idea that he could be ashamed of me, I took it all very quietly. So long as we were happy, and could afford to live in our own way, I did not mind; but now Harry had got discontented, somehow or other. He was quite in a fuss to think that I was not received as I ought to be, and a great many more things like that—perhaps somebody had said something to him, as if he were supposed to be ashamed of me—at all events he had changed his mind from our first plan; and though I felt quite convinced my way was the wisest, I had to change it as before. Anything was better than having him uncomfortable and discontented. I supported myself with Mrs. Saltoun’s opinion, and went with resignation to look at all those expensive lodgings.

The people seemed all to guess that we belonged to the new regiment; and some of them were quite great ladies, and quite enlightened me as to what we should require. For most of the day I was in a perfect panic; every place seeming dearer than another. When we went into those expensive rooms I always found out something that it was quite impossible for me to tolerate (quite independent, of course, you know, of any question of price!) till Harry quite fretted at my fastidiousness. At last we did find a place that suited me. It was no great thing in point of situation. It was a first floor, a front and back drawing-room. I believe, candidly, that the back room was about as big as Mrs. Saltoun’s good substantial old dining-table, which we used to have in our sitting-room in Edinburgh; but then there were folding-doors; and the front drawing-room was decorated and ornamented to such a pitch that one was quite afraid to sit down in any of the chairs. When I heard what the rent was, I was charmed with the rooms. Harry could not understand my enthusiasm. I found it the handiest place in the world;—and then it showed such discrimination in the landlady to ask so moderate a rent. We fetched Lizzie and baby from the inn directly, and dismissed Harry to look at the town. And really, when we got a little settled, it was not so uncomfortable; though, to be sure, to give up the sizeable room for company (and they never came!), and to live in that little box behind was very foolish, as I always thought. However, when, I above and Lizzy below, we had investigated the house, and{168} when the landlady was made to comprehend, with difficulty, that our washing was done at home, and that her toleration of these processes was needful, and when her wonder and the first shock to her system conveyed in this piece of intelligence was over, things looked tolerably promising. The worst was, we had no view; no view whatever except the bit of garden plot before the house, filled with dusty evergreens, and the corner of a street which led to the railway station. The cabs and people, going to and from the trains, made the only variety in the prospect; and anybody will allow that was sadly different from windows which looked sidelong over the corner of Bruntsfield Links, upon the Castle, and the Crags, and Arthur’s Seat. However, what I had to think of, in the meantime, was how to live without getting into debt; for, of course, people like us, with just so much money coming in (and oh, how very, very little it was!), had neither any excuse nor any way of saving themselves if once they ventured into debt.

Thus we got established in our new quarters; and many a long ramble I took with Harry along those strange superannuated walls.—To think how they once stood up desperate, in defence, round the brave little town! to think of the wild Welsh raging outside on that tranquil turf, where the races were now-a-days; to think of those secure streets down there, that lengthened themselves out presumptuously beyond the ramparts, and even cut passages through them, once cowering in alarm below their shadow! The place quite captivated me; and then the streets themselves, the strange dark covered pathways, steps up from the street, with the shops lurking in their shadow! like some of the German towns, Harry told me. Looking into them from the street, and seeing the stream of passengers coming and going, through the openings and heavy wooden beams of the railing; or looking out of one of those openings upon a kind of street-scenes and life that had nothing in the world to do with the strange old-world arcade, from which one looked out as from a balcony, was as good as reading a book about ancient times. It was not like my dear Edinburgh, to be sure, but it was very captivating; and Harry and I enjoyed exploring together. It was all new and fresh to us—and it was spring; and when you have nothing to trouble you much, it is delightful to see new places, and get new pictures into the mind. Chester was quite as novel, and fresh, and captivating, though it was only in our own country, as that German Munich which Harry told me of—Harry had{169} been a great traveller before he joined, while his father was so long ill—could have been.

Lizzie, however, was not nearly so much at her ease as I was. When she felt herself laughed at, and looked at, and misunderstood, Lizzie fell back into her chronic state of awkwardness. Her national pride was driven to enthusiasm by her contact with “thae English.” Lizzie entertained a steady disbelief that the tongue in which she heard everybody speak—which was far enough from being a refined one, however,—was their native and natural speech. “They were a’ speaking grand for a purpose o’ their ain, to make folk believe they were lords and leddies,” Lizzie said; and with a still higher pitch of indignation, “Mem, you aye understood me, though you’re an English leddy; and think o’ the like o’ them setting up no’ to understand what your lass means when she’s speaking! I dinna understand them, I’m sure,—no half a dozen words. To hear that clippit English, and the sharp tongues they have, deaves me. The very weans in the street they’ve nae innocence in them. They’re a’ making a fashion of speaking as fine as you.”

“Never mind, Lizzie; you’ll soon get accustomed to them, and make friends,” said I, with an attempt at consolation.

“Friends! I never had anybody belonging to me but a faither,” said Lizzie, who understood relations to be signified by that word: “but I’m no heeding now; and I’ll soon learn to nip the ends off the words like the rest o’ them. There’s a grand green for drying, that Mrs. Goldsworthy calls the back ga’den; and, if you’ll no’ be angry, I can do the ironing grand mysel’.”

“You! but I dare not trust you, Lizzie,” said I, shaking my head. “Mr. Langham would find it out—I mean he would find me out—if they were not quite so well done; and you don’t consider what quantities of things you will have to do—to keep the drawing-room nice, and get tea and breakfast, and wash, and I don’t know what; and yet always to be tidy, and keep baby all day long. You don’t know what you have on your hands already, you unlucky girl.”

“Eh, I’m glad!” cried Lizzie, clapping her hands together with fervour; and her brown eyes sparkled, and her uncouth figure grew steady with the delight of conscious energy and power. If she had been eighteen she would not have been so simple-minded. Never anybody was so fortunate as I had been in my little maid.{170}

Chapter II.

VERY soon we began to get interested in the people round about us; for we were not here, as we had been in Mrs. Saltoun’s little house, the only strangers. By means of Lizzie, who was much annoyed at the discovery, I found out that the house was quite full of lodgers. On the ground floor there was a foreign gentleman and his servant. The gentleman was absent at first; but the man, a very fat, good-humoured-looking fellow, who adopted us all into his friendship immediately, and expanded into smiles through the railings of the stair when any of us went up or down, was in full possession. The way that Lizzie avoided this smiling ogre, and the way in which he appreciated her panic, and was amused by it, and conciliated and coaxed her, was the most amusing thing I ever saw. And the way he opened the door for me, and took off his hat, and laid his hand on his heart and bowed! The good fellow quite kept us in amusement. When baby, who was getting on famously and noticing everything, crowed at him, in spite of his great beard, as children will do to men (it is very odd; but babies do take to strange men sooner than to strange women, I believe), the fat foreigner burst into great shouts of delighted laughter, and snapped his fat fingers, and made the funniest grimaces to please the child. None of us could speak a single word of his language; we did not even know at first what countryman he was; but we all got to have the most friendly, kind feeling for the stranger,—all except Lizzie, who stumbled up and flew downstairs in her anxiety to avoid his eyes. One bad habit he certainly had; he smoked perpetually. He smoked cigars—shocking bad ones, Harry said: he did not even put them down when he sprang out of his parlour to open the door for me; but only withdrew the one he was smoking from his full red lips, and held it somehow concealed in his hand. As he was constantly about in the house, or lingering close at hand with his great-coat buttoned on round his throat like a cloak, and the empty sleeves waving from his shoulders, stamping his feet on the ground, and whistling like a bird, this{171} smell of bad cigars was perpetually about the house. Poor Mrs. Goldsworthy went up and down with the most grieved look upon her face. If any one made the least sign of having smelt anything disagreeable, she held up her hands in the most imploring way, and said, “What can a poor body do? He’s the obligingest creatur as ever was! and he don’t know a word of Christian language; and the gentleman—which is a real gentleman, and none o’ your make-believes—as good as left him in my charge; and, bless you, if he will smoke them cigars, and don’t understand a word a body says to him, what am I to do?” Indeed, for my own part, I had not only a great sympathy for him, but I could not help liking the fat fellow; and after a few days it was astonishing how we got used to the cigars.

Then we ourselves occupied the two next floors. It was a strange little house; two rooms, back and front, piled on the top of each other four stories high; the top-story rooms were attics; and there was actually a lodger in each of those attics! Where Mrs. Goldsworthy and her daughter slept themselves was more than either Lizzie or I could make out. One of the attic lodgers was a thin, wistful man, whom I could not help looking at. He worked at something in his own room, and used to go out to dine. He was always very neat and clean; but very threadbare, and with a hungry look that went to one’s heart. Perhaps it was not want; maybe he was hungry for something else than mere money or nourishment; but sometimes I am sure I should not have been surprised to hear that he was starving too. Sometimes he looked at me or at baby in his wistful way, just as he vanished past us. I can’t say he ever smiled, even at little Harry; but still we drew his eyes when he chanced to meet us going out or in. I felt a great compassion for this poor solitary man. He was a man that might have been found starved, but never would have asked any charity; at least so I thought of him. I used to fancy him sitting in his solitary room upstairs by the window, and not by the fire,—for we never heard him poking any fire, and often saw him at the window,—and wondered how people could get so isolated, and chilled, and solitary; how they lived at all when they came to that condition—benumbed of all comfort, and still not frozen to death. How strange to think of keeping on living, years and years after one’s heart is dead! Harry said I was fanciful and continually made stories about people; but I did not tell Harry one half of my fancies; I don’t know what he would have done to me if I had; but I did so wish I{172} could have some chance of doing something to please that old man.

One day Harry came downstairs with a smile on his face. “There is the most ludicrous scene going on below; come and look, Milly,” he said, drawing me to the stairs. I peeped down, and there, to be sure, I saw a reason for the sound of talking I had heard for a few minutes past. Lizzie was sitting on the stair, pondering deeply, with a perplexed face, over a large book spread out on the step above her. She was holding baby fast in one arm, and staving off his attempts to snatch at the leaves of the book. Leaning on the bannisters regarding her, and holding forth most volubly in an unknown tongue, was our fat friend; and between every two or three words he pointed to the book, making a sort of appeal to it. The contrast between the two—she silent and bewildered, confused by her efforts to restrain baby and comprehend the book—he, the vast full figure of him, so voluble, so good-humoured, so complacent, talking with his fat arms and fingers, his gestures, and every movement he made—talking with such confidence that language which nobody understood—was almost as irresistible to me as to Harry. We stood looking down at them, extremely amused and wondering. Then Lizzie, failing to comprehend the book, and hearing herself addressed so energetically, raised her round eyes, round with amazement, to the speaker’s face. The unknown tongue awed Lizzie; she contemplated him with speechless wonder and dismay; until at last, when the speaker made an evident close appeal to her, with a natural oratory which she could not mistake, unintelligible as was its meaning, her amazement burst forth in words. “Eh, man, what div ye mean?” cried Lizzie, in the extremity of her puzzled wonder. It was the climax of the scene. Though I thrust Harry back into the room instantly, that his laughter might not be heard, and smothered my own as best I could, the sound caught Lizzie’s watchful ears. In another moment she had reached the top of the stairs, breathless, with her charge in her arms. The puzzled look had not left Lizzie’s eyes, but she was deeply abashed and ashamed of herself. Harry’s laughter did not mend the matter, of course. She dropped baby in my arms, and twisted herself into all her old awkward contortions. I had to send her away and dismiss Harry into the other room. Poor Lizzie had never possessed sufficient courage to permit herself to be accosted by the dreadful foreigner before.

However, we were not less amused when we heard what Mrs. Goldsworthy would have called “the rights of it.” Lizzie,{173} with great resolution, determined to have herself exculpated, came to me with her statement as soon as she was quite assured that “the Captain” was out of the way.

“Eh! I came to think at last he was, maybe, a Hielander,” said Lizzie, “though they’re seldom that fat. And he laid down the book straight before in the stair. I kent what kind of book it was. It was the book wi’ a’ kind o’ words, and the meanings. But the meanings just were English, and the words were some other language. And I kind of guessed what he wanted, too. He wanted me to look in the book for the words he said, to tell me what he meant; but eh! how was I to ken where one word ended and another began? And he just hurried on and on; and the mair I listened, the mair I could not hear a single word, and looking at the book was just nonsense; and Master baby, he would try his hand; and oh, Mem, if you’re angry, I didna mean ony ill, and I’ll never do it again.”

“Nonsense, Lizzie! I am not angry; but couldn’t you get on with the dictionary, and help the poor fellow? Were not you a very good scholar at school?”

“No very,” said Lizzie, hanging her head in agonies of pleased but painful bashfulness, and unconsciously uttering her sentiments in language as puzzling to an English hearer as any uttered by our fat friend downstairs. “No very,” said Lizzie, anxiously truthful, yet not unwilling to do herself due credit;—“no very, but gey.”

Here I fear my laugh rather shocked and affronted Lizzie. She stood very upright, and twisted nothing but her fingers. It would have been as impossible to persuade her that there was scarcely a person in Chester, but myself, who could have translated that exquisite monosyllable as to convince the foreigner that he was actually and positively incomprehensible in spite of the dictionary. But I will not attempt to interpret gey; it is untranslatable, as we are quite content so many French words should be. Even into Harry’s head, which should be capable of better things, I find it quite impossible to convey an idea of the expressiveness of this word. Lizzie and I, however, knew no other to put in its place.

“But a gey good scholar might do a great deal for the poor fellow,” said I, when I had got over my laughter; “tell him the English names for things. Try if you can find out his name; but I forgot you were frightened for him, Lizzie.”

“Aye, till I thought he might, maybe, be a Hielander,” said Lizzie. “Though the Hielanders dinna belang to us at{174} hame, they might feel kindly in a strange place; and I’ve heard folk speaking Gaelic. But this is no like Gaelic, it’s a’ aws and os; and it’s awfu’ fast, just a rattle; a’ the words run in to one another. Forbye what harm could he do me? and the book was straight in my way on the stair; and it gangs to my heart to set my foot on a book. Ye might be trampin’ ower a bit o’ the Bible without kennin’; and then he’s very good-natured; and then,” said Lizzie, her eyes suddenly glowing up, “it would be grand to learn a language that nae ither body kens!”

With the greatest cordiality I applauded this crowning argument, and did all I could to encourage her to persevere with the dictionary, and make herself interpreter; for I was not wise enough to think that this new study might possibly be too captivating for Lizzie, and lead her into neglect of her many and pressing duties. I only thought it was the most amusing mode of intercourse I ever heard of, and that it would be great fun to watch its progress. Besides, as she said herself, what harm could he do her? Poor Lizzie, who might have been in danger at an elder age in such a comical friendship, was invulnerable to all the dangers of flirtation at fourteen.{175}

Chapter III.

ABOUT this time Harry’s object was attained, and some of the other ladies of the regiment called on me. I think they were a little surprised to find me just like other people, and not very much afraid of them; though I will confess that in my heart I was rather anxious, thinking whether Lizzie would have the discretion to put baby’s best frock on, in case they asked to see him. They did ask, of course; and when, after a few minutes, Lizzie came down, not only with his best frock on, but with the ribbon I had just got to trim my bonnet for spring, carefully tied round his waist for a sash, anybody may imagine what my feelings were! He looked very pretty in it certainly; but only fancy my good ribbon that I had grudged to buy, and could not do without! Ah! it is just possible that one’s nursery-maid may be too anxious to show off one’s baby to the best advantage. However, of course, I had to smile and make the best of it, and console myself with bursting forth upon Lizzie whenever they were gone.

“How could you think of taking my ribbon! oh, Lizzie, Lizzie! and I am sure I cannot afford to buy another one,” cried I.

“It’s a’ preened on,” said Lizzie mysteriously, “there’s no a single crumple in’t; and I made the bows just like what the leddies have them on their bonnets, and it’s no a bit the waur. But, Mem, the very weans in the street have a sash round their waist; and was I gaun to let on to strangers that our bairn hadna everything grand? And he sat still like a king till I fastened it a’ on. You see yoursel’ it has taken nae harm.”

“But the pins!” cried I, in horror. “Were you not afraid, you dreadful girl, to make a pincushion of my boy?”

Lizzie was fast taking them out, conveying them to her mouth in the first place, and furtively withdrawing them again lest I should observe her. Her only answer was to point triumphantly to the child.

“Would he laugh like that if I had jaggit him?” cried Lizzie. There was no contesting that proof; so I had to withdraw the{176} ribbon out of their joint hands immediately, and put it at once to its proper use. This, however, was neither the first nor the last of Lizzie’s impromptus. Those great red fingers of hers, all knuckles and corners as they were, had that light rapid touch which distinguishes every true artiste. She devised and appropriated for the decoration of the baby and “the credit of the house,” with the utmost boldness. It was not safe to leave anything which she could adapt to his use in her way.

The next trial I had was an invitation to dinner, which came for us shortly after. I set my face very much against it. Long ago, when Harry used to tell me about their parties, I made up my mind it never would do for us to begin going to them, however much we might be asked. To be sure Harry might go. I was always glad Harry should go; but how was I, who had got no trousseau, like other young wives, when I was married, but just had one cheap silk dress, bought off Aunt Connor’s ten pounds, which I made up myself, to go out to dinner? I stood out long and obstinately; but I had to give in at last, just as I had about the maid and the lodgings. Harry would not go by himself. He would not decline the invitation; he said, with a very glum face, that we had better accept, and leave it to the chapter of accidents to find an excuse at the time. He did not understand how necessary it was for me to keep at home. He had been able always to go where he wanted, and keep up with the rest, and it fretted him dreadfully now to feel the bondage that our narrow means put us in. You understand he did not object to be economical in a general way, nor even, indeed, grumbled, the dear good fellow, at giving up many of his old luxuries; and, at first, he seemed to be delighted with having no society but our own. But now, when he began to feel annoyed that his wife was not in the same position as the others, and when I plied him with all the old arguments—that we dare not begin such a life or the expense would ruin us, Harry became very restive indeed. Somehow it seemed to gall and humble him; the idea that his wife could not go out for want of a dress! He could not put up with the thought; he jumped up from his chair as if something had stung him. “It is nonsense, Milly! folly; the merest shortsightedness; you don’t want half a dozen dresses to go to one dinner, and one dress can’t ruin us,” cried the unreasonable fellow. He would not understand me or listen to me. The notion wounded him quite to the heart. He looked so sulky and miserable that I could not bear to see it. I gave a great sigh, and gave in again. What could I do?{177}

“Well, Harry!” said I, “the foolishness is all on the other side, mind; but if I must give in I can’t help myself. I am only twenty, not twenty quite. I’ll go in white.”

“Bravo! you could not do better than go in white!” cried Harry, “there’s a courageous woman! But why, may an ignoramus ask, should you not go in white, Milly darling! Isn’t it the dress of all others for a—well, an ugly little creature like you?”

“I am not so sure about the ugly,” said I; “and now, please, get your hat and come out with me. I saw the fashions in a window at the other end of the street. Let us go and look at them, and then I shall know how to make it up.”

“Why can’t you go to the milliner like other people,” growled the unsatisfied man; “and why, answer my question, shouldn’t you go in white?”

I durstn’t confess that I had my own vanity in the matter, and being a matron, rather despised a white muslin frock to go out in; for if I had betrayed the least inkling of such a thing, there is no saying what he might not have done; run up a bill, or paid away all the money he had, or something; so I stopped his mouth with some foolish answer, and ran off to get my bonnet. Upstairs baby was sitting on the carpet, with Lizzie beside him, jumping a little paste-board harlequin to please him. Her brown eyes were quite sparkling over the loose-legged, insane figure, as she jerked the string about. I could not help but stand and look at her for a moment with a startled sensation. She was just as much amused as baby was. Only to think of such a child being left in charge of our boy! I went downstairs in consequence with a slower step, after having given Lizzie a superabundance of cautions about taking care of him. Only a girl of fourteen! I daresay all this time you must have been thinking I was mad to trust her; but, indeed, she was a very extraordinary girl; and after all, when you think it, fourteen is quite a trustworthy age. She was old enough to know what she ought to do, and not old enough to be distracted by thoughts of her own. Ah, depend upon it, fourteen is more single-minded than eighteen; and then Lizzie had a woman’s strength and handiness along with her child’s heart.

Not to delay longer about it, we did go to the party. Harry said I looked very well on the whole; he did not think he would have been disposed to exchange with anybody. I had no jewellery at all, which was rather a little humiliating to me; but, to my wonder and delight, Harry did not object to{178} that. “They’ll only think you’re setting up for simplicity,” he said, laughing. “I suppose it’s safer to be thought a little humbug than to have your dreadful destitution known. Come along. Nobody will suspect you have not a bracelet; only mind you behave yourself very innocently, like a little shepherdess, and you’ll take everybody in.”

I cannot say I very much admired this piece of advice; and if Harry had thought me the least likely to take it, I am sure he would not have been so ready with his good counsels. The party disappointed me a great deal. How is it one reads in books of society being so captivating, and intoxicating, and all that, and how, when one is used to it, one can’t do without it? On the contrary, it was as dull—duller than anybody could imagine! Instead of that delightful stream of conversation always kept up, and so easy, and so witty, and so clever, you could see perfectly well that everybody was trying to contrive what they should say, and to find out things that would bear talking about. The poor lady of the house was so anxious to keep up the talk that she ate no dinner in the first place; and in the second, evidently frightened by the pauses that occurred, kept talking loud herself, and dancing on from one subject to another till she was quite breathless. Then there was one man who was expected to make you laugh—people prepared to laugh whenever he opened his lips; but I am sorry to say I was so indiscreet as only to stare at him, and wonder what it was about. I caught the eye of the young lady sitting by him as I did so. She was little,—less than me,—dark, and very, very pretty. She was only Miss somebody, but she was dressed more richly than anybody there, and had the most beautiful bracelets. I could not help feeling a little when I looked at my poor wrists and my white muslin dress—I who was married, and she only a young girl; when, just at that moment, she gave me a quick look, lifting up her eyebrows, and smiling rather disdainfully at the great wit beside her. Immediately we two were put in communication somehow. I suppose it was mesmerism. Her eyes kept seeking mine all the time of dinner. The odd thing about her was that her hair was quite short, hanging in little curls upon her neck, like a child’s; and of all things in the world, for such a child to wear, she was dressed in violet velvet, the most beautiful shade in the world. I suppose Harry would have said she was a little humbug too, and did it for effect; but, to be sure, it must have been wealth and not poverty that did it in her case. When we went up to the drawing-room after dinner,{179} she very soon made her way to me. The other ladies, most of them belonging to the regiment, had come round me, and were doing their best to discover why I had been kept in the dark so long, and whether anything could be found out about me. I stood at bay pretty well, I think; but when Miss Cresswell came in, somehow all at once, like a fresh little breeze, in her soft velvet dress, to the sofa beside me, I really felt I could have laid down my head on her shoulder and cried. To be sure it was very foolish; one can smile and keep up when one is being baited, and when one finds a real friend after being aggravated out of one’s life, it is only natural to feel disposed to cry. I say a real friend, though I never saw her before,—it was mesmerism, I suppose; we took to each other at once.

We had got quite intimate before the gentlemen came upstairs. I had told her where we lived, and she promised to come and see me, and we had found out a great many opinions we had in common. Things were different, however, when the gentlemen appeared. All the young men hovered about Miss Cresswell. There were few young ladies, and she was certainly much the prettiest; and, I am very grieved to have to say it—I cannot deny that she did flirt a little. She was disdainful, and would take no notice of anybody at first, but by degrees she did come to little bursts of flirtation; and I am afraid she liked it too. Then there began to be things said about her and me which displeased me. We were “Art and Nature,” somebody said; and some of the gentlemen evidently entertained the same feeling that Harry indicated, when he said they would suppose me a little humbug. Evidently we were both thought little humbugs, sitting by each other to set each other off. Some of them, I do believe, thought it had all been made up beforehand. Certainly we were a strange contrast; I, in my plain white dress, with no ornaments; she in velvet, with such a quantity of jewellery. But to have people looking at me, and contrasting me with Miss Cresswell, and making jokes upon my dress and hers, was what I did not choose to put up with. People accustomed to society may like it, but I did not. So I got up and took Harry’s arm, and went to look at a picture. Nobody spoke to us for some five minutes or so, but we were close to some ladies talking with all their might. Then some one touched my arm, and I saw Miss Cresswell had followed me, and brought an old gentleman with her. This was her father. I got behind one of the talking ladies to veil my “simplicity,” that there might be no more nonsense about{180} it. The ladies were talking of women working. Oh, so little they knew or pretended to know about it; I wonder what they would have thought if they could have seen my laundry operations; or, indeed, I wonder, under all their fine talk, whether they had not, of mornings, some work to do themselves. However, I only tell this from the glimpse it gave me of my new friend.

“It is all very well to speak of hardships,” cried Miss Cresswell. “I can’t see any hardship in doing one’s work. Ah! don’t you think they are very happy who have something to do?—something they must do whether they like it or not. I hate always doing things if I like! it is the most odious, tiresome stuff! If I like! and if I like it pray, what is the good of it? It is not work any longer, it is only pleasure.”

“My dear child,” said one of the old ladies, “be thankful you have so much ease and leisure. Your business just now is to please your papa.”

Here the old gentleman burst in with a long slow laugh, “To worry him, you mean,” said Mr. Cresswell; “tell her of her duty, Mrs. Scrivin. Ah, my dear lady, she’s contrairy!” he cried, shaking his head with a certain air of complacence and ruefulness. Miss Cresswell gave him such a flashing, wicked look out of her dark eyes, and then seized my hand to lead me away somewhere. She was not a dutiful good girl, it appeared; she did not look like it. Now she was roused up, first by flirting, and then by rebellion and opposition, you could see it in her eyes. I am sorry, I am ashamed to confess it—but I do believe I liked her the better for being so wicked. It is very dreadful to say such a thing, but I am afraid it was true.{181}

Chapter IV.

OUR fat Italian friend below stairs began to give us great amusement just then. Wherever he went he carried under his arm that square volume as fat as himself, in which Lizzie was at present pursuing her occult and bewildered studies. To see Domenico (for that was his name), coming to a sudden halt straight before you, blocking out all the light from that tiny passage which Mrs. Goldsworthy called her “hall,” and announcing, with a flourish of his dictionary, that he had something to communicate, was irresistibly comic certainly; but it was a little embarrassing as well. Domenico’s verbs were innocent of either past, present, or future. I presume he was quite above any considerations of grammar, except that supplied to him by nature, in his own language, and was not aware that such a master of the ceremonies existed to introduce him to the new tongue, which the poor fellow found so crabbed and unmanageable. I have heard of people managing to get on in foreign countries with a language composed of nouns and the infinitive of verbs (I honestly confess, that when I heard this story first, I had very vague ideas of what the infinitive of a verb was); a primitive savage language containing the possibilities of existence; eating, drinking, and sleeping; but quite above the conventional uses of conversation. Domenico’s ambition was far higher, but his information was absolutely confined to those same infinitives. He knew the word only as it stood in the dictionary—what were tenses and numbers to him? But you will perceive that a conversation conducted on these principles was necessarily wanting in precision, and that the conversing persons did not always understand each other with the clearness that might have been desired.

One clear spring morning, a few days after the party, I was going out about household affairs, when Domenico stopped me on the way to the door. He had his coat off, and the immense expanse of man in shirt-sleeves, which presented itself before me, cannot be expressed by description. As usual, he was smiling all over his face; as usual, his red lips and white teeth{182} opened out of his beard with a primitive fulness and genial good-humour; as usual, he seized his beard with one hand as he addressed me, opening out his big dictionary on the table with the other. “Signora,” cried Domenico, “the master my—me, of me,” first pointing at himself, and then, to make assurance sure, boxing his chest emphatically, “the my master,—Signora understand?—come back.”

“What?” cried I, “he has come back, has he, Domenico?”

Domenico nodded a hundred times with the fullest glee and rapture. “I—me—Domenico,” he cried, again boxing himself, that there might be no doubt of his identity, “make prepare.”

From which I divined that the master was not yet returned; and, nodding half as often as Domenico, by way of signifying my entire content and sympathy, foolishly concluded that I was let off and might pass. However, Domenico was not yet done with me.

“The Signora give little of the advice,” said Domenico, with unusual clearness, opening the door of his parlour, and inviting me by many gestures to enter. I looked in, much puzzled, and found the room in all the agonies of change. The carpet had been lifted, and the floor polished, which, perhaps, explained the sounds we had heard for some days. I cannot describe how the mean planks of poor Mrs. Goldsworthy’s little parlour, many of them gaping apart, looked under the painstaking labours of Domenico. He had contrived to rub them into due slipperiness and a degree of shine; but the result was profoundly dismal, and anything but corresponding to the face of complacency with which Domenico regarded his handiwork. The fat fellow watched my eyes, and was delighted at first to see my astonishment; but, perceiving immediately, with all the quick observation which our straitened possibilities of speech made necessary, that my admiration was by no means equal to surprise, his countenance fell. “He not pleases to the Signora,” said Domenico. Then he hastened to the corner where the rejected carpet lay in a roll, and spread a corner of it over the floor. I nodded my head again and applauded. Domenico’s disappointment was great.

“But for the sommere?” said Domenico with a melancholy interrogation.

“It is never so warm in England,—cold, cold,” I said, with great emphasis and distinctness. Domenico heard and brightened up.

“Ah, thank! ah, thank! not me remember. England!{183} ah! Inghilterra! no Italia! ah, thank! the Signora make good.”

The Signora was permitted to consider herself dismissed, I concluded by the bows that followed, and I hastened to the door, outstripping, as I thought, the anxious politeness of the fat Italian. But I wronged his devotion: with that light step, which was so ludicrously out of proportion to his enormous figure, he swung out of the room to open the door for me, and accomplished it in spite of my precipitation, taking in his vast dimensions somehow so as to pass me without collision. I went about my business with all the greater lightness after this comical encounter, and a little curiosity, I confess, in respect to the master who was coming home. Harry had heard of him already, as having quite a romantic story attached to him. He had come to Chester to see some lady whom he was quite confident of finding, and had been hunting all the neighbouring country for her without meeting anybody who knew even her name. It was supposed he had gone to make inquiries somewhere else, and now he was coming home. I got quite interested about it. I pictured him out to myself quite a romantic Italian, of course, with long hair, and a picturesque cloak, and possibly a guitar. I made up a story in my own mind, like that story of the Eastern girl and A’Becket—that prettiest story! I could fancy Domenico’s master, not knowing much more English, perhaps, than Domenico, wandering about everywhere with the name on his lips; for, of course, it must be a love-story. It is impossible to imagine it could be anything else.

In the evening, when Harry and I were going out for a little walk, Domenico suddenly presented himself again, and stopped us. This time he was beaming broader than ever with smiles and innocent complacent self-content. He invited us into the parlour with a multitude of bows. Harry, who had heard the morning’s adventure, went immediately, and I followed him. The room was all in the most perfect tidiness; Mrs. Goldsworthy’s hideous ornaments were put in corners, ornaments of any kind being apparently better than none in Domenico’s eyes. But the mantel-piece, where the little flower-glasses had heretofore held sole sway, was now occupied by some plaster figures bought from some wandering image-merchant, whom Domenico had loudly fraternised and chattered with at the door some days before. In the middle was a bust of Dante, upon which the Italian had placed a wreath of green leaves. The walls were covered with cheap-coloured prints in frames—I suspect{184} of Domenico’s own manufacture; such prints as people fasten up, all frameless in their simplicity, upon walls of nurseries: gay, bright, cheap, highly-coloured articles, which quite satisfied the taste of Domenico, himself a child in everything but size and years. It was nothing to his simple mind that they had no money value, and I suppose no value in art either. I don’t suppose Domenico knew anything about art, though he was an Italian. But he knew about decoration! He had made the walls blush and smile to welcome the new-comer. I trust his master was no artist either, and could appreciate the adornments which made the face of Domenico beam. The good fellow was so pleased that he forgot his dictionary; he burst forth into long explanations, interspersed by bursts of laughter and gestures of delight, in his own tongue. He threw open the door of the little room behind to reveal to us the arrangements of his master’s bedchamber. He explained to Harry—at least I have no doubt, by the way he pointed to the carpet, and the frequency of the word Signora, that this was what he meant—all about the carpet and his polished floor. At last it suddenly flashed upon Domenico that he was spending his eloquence in vain. He rushed to the table where his beloved dictionary reposed; he dashed at its pages in frantic haste, with wild pantomimic entreaties to us to wait. “Is good? good?” said Domenico, with an eager expressiveness which made up for his defective verbs. I applauded with all the might of gestures and smiles; upon which our friend once more opened the door for us. “To-morrow! after to-morrow!” said the good fellow. It was then his master was coming home.

And, I am sorry to say, Harry was rather disposed to laugh at the fat Italian, and to be sarcastic upon his beautiful prints. Harry did not know anything in the world about pictures; but he knew how cheap these were, and that was enough for him, the prose Englishman. I am thankful to say that I soon reduced him to silence. He declared I was savage in good Domenico’s defence.{185}

Chapter V.

“MEM, he’s been at the market,” said Lizzie, next morning, “and bought a hen; and he smiles and laughs to himself like to bring down the house.”

This was the first bulletin of the important day on which the Italian gentleman was expected home.

The next report was more painful to Lizzie’s feelings. “He’s been at the chapel,” said Lizzie, in a horrified whisper, “and brought hame water to put in the wee bowlie at the maister’s bedhead. Oh, did you see it? it has a cross, and—and—a figure on’t,” said Lizzie, with a deep awe, “and a wee round bowlie for the water. What’ll yon be for? I’m no sure it’s safe to be in the same house.”

Lizzie’s horror, however, did not diminish her curiosity. After a little interval another scrap of information reached my attentive ear. “He has some veal on the kitchen-table,” said Lizzie, “and if he’s no’ working at it himsel’! A man! cutting away and paring away, and putting the pan a’ ready like a woman—and, eh, mem, the wastry’s dreadful. He’s making holes in’t and stuffin’ them fu’ o’ something. Noo he’s puttin’t on the fire.”

That day baby was neglected for the first time. Lizzie was too much excited and interested—not to say that she had an observant eye and believed it quite possible that she might receive a hint from this man of all work—to repress her natural curiosity. The next thing she reported was a half-alarmed statement that “he was away out again and left it at the fire; and what if it was sitting to[A] before he came hame?” Lizzie’s dread of this accident carried her off downstairs to watch Domenico’s stew with friendly anxiety. In about an hour she re-appeared again.

[A] A Scotch expression which signifies burned in the pan.

“He’s come back; and, eh! o’ a’ the things in the world to think upon, it’s a box of thae nasty things he smokes!” cried Lizzie. “If the gentlemen smokes tae, we’ll a’ be driven out of the house.”{186}

Just then, however, another incident occurred which interrupted Lizzie’s observations. As she went out of the room, in silent despair, after her last alarming presentiment, somebody evidently encountered her coming up. “I want Mrs. Langham, please,” cried Miss Cresswell’s voice. “Are you her maid? Oh, I’m not to be shown into the drawing-room. I am to go to her. Where is she?—in the nursery? Show me where to go, please.”

“But you maun go to the drawing-room,” said Lizzie, making, as I felt sure from the little quiver in her voice, her bob to the young lady, and audibly opening the sacred door of our state apartment.

“Maun? do you mean must? I never do anything I must,” said Miss Cresswell. “There now! make haste; show me where Mrs. Langham is.”

“The drawing-room is the place for leddies that come visiting,” said Lizzie, resolutely. “I’ll no let ye in ony other place.”

“You’ll not let me in!—what do you mean, you impertinent child?” cried Miss Cresswell.

“I’m no a child,” cried Lizzie. “I ken my duty; and if I was to loose my good place what good would that do onybody? If ye please, ye’ll come in here.”

The pause of astonishment that followed was evident by the silence; then a little quick impatient step actually passed into that poor little drawing-room. “You strange little soul! but I’ll tell Mrs. Langham,” cried Miss Cresswell.

“I’m no a soul,” said Lizzie; “I’m just like other folk. I’m Mrs. Langham’s lass; and she kens me different from a stranger. What name will I say, if ye please?”

This question was answered by a burst of laughter from the visitor, which I increased by throwing open the door of my concealment and disclosing myself with baby in my arms. He had on his best frock by accident, which explains my rashness.

“How have you managed it?” cried Miss Cresswell; “why, here is a romance-servant. Dear Mrs. Langham, tell me what you have done to make her so original—and let me have baby. I have not come to make a call, as that creature supposed. I have come as a friend—you said I might. Why must I be brought into this room?”

“It is the most cheerful room,” said I, evading the question: “however, Lizzie did not mean to be saucy—she knew no better—but she is the most famous help in the world, though she is little more than a child.”{187}

“But then I suppose you must do a great many things yourself?” said my visitor, looking me very close in the face.

I felt my cheeks grow hot in spite of myself—if Harry had heard her he would have been furious; and I daresay many people would have set this down at once as the impertinence of the rich to the poor. I felt it was no such thing; but still it embarrassed me a little, against my will.

“Do you know some people would be affronted to be asked as much?” said I.

“I know,” cried Miss Cresswell, with a little toss of her head,—“people who can’t understand how miserable it is not to have to do anything. Do you believe in voluntary work? I don’t. I can’t see it’s any good. I can’t see the use of it. I should like to cook the dinner and keep the things tidy. I should like to see everything stand gaping and calling for me till I set it to rights. That’s the pleasure; but as for saving somebody else trouble, why should I do it? I can’t see any advantage whatever in that.”

“Then you would not have me save Lizzie or the landlady some trouble when I can?” said I.

“That is totally a different thing,” said the impetuous little girl; then she started, in a manner to me inexplicable, and gazed out of the window near which she was sitting. “Mr. Luigi!” she exclaimed to herself; “now I should so like to know what he wants here.”

Just then there was the noise of an arrival at the door; of course it must be the Italian gentleman. “Who is he?” said I. “If it is the Italian, he lives here.”

Without making any immediate reply, Miss Cresswell clasped her hands softly together. “How strange!” she exclaimed. Of course it was her own thoughts she was following out, but they seemed sufficiently interesting to rouse my attention. I occupied myself in the meantime with baby, feeling that it would be the merest cruelty to call upon Lizzie at this climax of the day’s excitement. And Miss Cresswell leant forward, carefully drawing out the curtain of the window to shade her, and watching the return of Domenico’s master. Her colour was a little higher than it had been previously, and she seemed to have quite quietly and comfortably forgotten my presence, I was amused; and, if I must confess it, I was in a condition to be easily affronted as well. At last she recovered herself, and blushed violently.

“I don’t know what you will think of me,” she cried; “but it is so strange—my godmamma had the last news of his going,{188} and I have the first intelligence of his return. Do you know, there is quite a story about him. He has come here to seek out a lady whom nobody ever heard of; but I do believe, whatever any one may choose to say, that godmamma Sarah knows.”

“Knows? Will she not tell, then?” said I.

“Look here,” said Miss Cresswell; “she was once a great beauty; and I believe, if you never will tell anybody, that she’s a cruel, wicked old woman. There! I did not mean to say half so much. She got so agitated whenever she heard what Mr. Luigi wanted that nobody could help finding her out; but, though I am certain she knows, she will do everything in the world rather than tell.”

“But why?”

“Oh, I cannot tell you why. I know nothing at all about it; and remember,” cried my imprudent visitor, “that I tell you all this in the greatest secret! I would not tell papa nor any one. I said it to my own godmamma just as it came into my head, and put her into such distress, the dear old soul! My own idea is, that godmamma Sarah does it only for spite; but her sister, you know, has a different opinion, and is frightened, and does not know what she is frightened about. I daresay you will think me very strange to say so,” said Miss Cresswell, again blushing very much, “but I should like to meet Mr. Luigi. I am sure he is somehow connected with my godmothers: I cannot make out how, I am sure; but I am quite certain, however unlikely it may be, that godmamma Sarah knows!”

She seemed quite excited and in earnest about it; so, as all her thoughts were turned that way, I told her our amusing intercourse with Domenico, and what good friends we were. Though she laughed and clapped her hands, she was too much engrossed with her own thoughts evidently to be much amused. She was most anxious to know whether I had heard anything of Mr. Luigi; whether the landlady talked of him; whether I knew how he came to Chester. She told me the story I had heard dimly from Harry in the most clear and distinct manner. On the whole, she filled me with suspicions. If I had not seen her flirting so lately, I should certainly have fancied her in love.

“You know him, then?” said I, after hearing her very steadily to an end.

“Not in the least,” she cried, once more blushing in the most violent, undisguisable way. “How should I know him?{189} Don’t you know I have no brothers or sisters, Mrs. Langham? and can’t you suppose that papa has exactly the same people to dinner year after year? Ah, you are quite different! You have your own place, and can choose your own society—choose me, please, there’s a darling! My name’s Sara; quite a waiting-maid’s name; let me have baby and come and help you. As for saying he would not come to me, it is nonsense. I will tell you exactly how many friends I have,—Godmamma, who is more than a friend, of course, but no relation; my old nurse, whom I never see, and who lives a hundred miles off; and old Miss Fielding, at the rectory. Now only think how much I am alone! You are quite new here; you can choose for yourself—choose me!”

“With all my heart!” said I. I was so much surprised by her ignorance and her free speech, that, though I liked her very much, I really did not know what more to say.

“I suppose, then, I may take off my bonnet?” she said, quite innocently looking up in my face.

If she had rushed to kiss me I could have understood it. If she had declared we were to be friends for ever, I should have quite gone in with her; but, to take off her bonnet! that was quite a different matter. I am sadly afraid I stammered and stared. I wanted a friend as much as she did—but men are such strange creatures. What would Harry say when he came in?

However, Sara Cresswell did not wait till I finished considering. In five minutes after she was sitting on the carpet at the window with little Harry, playing with him. The child was quite delighted. As for me, I was too much taken by surprise to know whether I was pleased or not. Harry was to dine at mess that night; and, of course, I had only meant to have tea all by myself in the little back room. What was to be done? I am sorry to say I was very much tempted to improvise a dinner, and pretend that it was just what I always did. I think the thing that saved me from this was looking at her with her little short curls; she looked so like a child! Besides, if we were really to be friends, was I to begin by deceiving her? Much better she should know at once all our simple ways.

“You will have no dinner,” said I, faltering a little. “Mr. Langham goes out, and I only take tea.”

“That is exactly what I like. Dinners are such bores!” said Sara, with the air of one who belonged to us and had taken possession.{190}

It was getting quite dark, and the lamps were being lighted outside; of course it delighted baby very much to be held up to see them, as his new nurse held him. As she stood there lifting him up, I put my hand upon her pretty hair. She had quite taken my heart.

“Have you had a fever, dear?” said I.

Sara stared at me a moment, then looked deeply affronted, then burst into a strange laugh. “I forgive you, because you called me dear,” she cried, starting off with baby to the other window. I suppose, then, it had not been a fever—some foolish fancy or other,—and no doubt her friends and acquaintance had pretty well avenged it, without any further question from me.{191}

Chapter VI.

NEXT morning I was a little amused and a little surprised to think over all that had happened. The idea of having a friend, who stayed with me till after nine, and helped to put baby to bed, and interfered with Lizzie, and turned over all our few books, and asked all sorts of questions, was the oddest thing in the world to me; and of course when I told Harry I heard all sorts of jokes from him about female friendship, and inquiries how long it would last, which made me extremely angry. Are men’s friendships any steadier, I wonder? I should say male friendship, to be even with him. Mr. Thackeray is delightful; but he puts a great deal of stuff into young men’s heads. I allow he may joke if he likes—to be sure, he does not mean half of it—but do you suppose they may all follow his example? Not that I mean to infer anything on Harry’s part that I could not pay him back quite comfortably. But not meaning Harry in the least, I don’t see why I should not do my little bit of criticism. I was just beginning to read books at that time, and everything was fresh to me. All the foolish lads think they are quite as wise as Mr. Thackeray, and have quite as good a right to think themselves behind the scenes. I suppose there never was anybody who did not like to feel superior and wiser than his neighbours. I would put Domenico’s laurel wreath on Mr. Thackeray’s head; but I should like to put an extinguisher on the heads of the Thackerians. I should think the great man would be disposed to knock down half the people that quote him, could he only hear, and behold, and note.

However, that has nothing to do with my story. I knew Lizzie must be in a highly excited state from long repression of her manifold gleanings of intelligence respecting last night’s arrival; and I went to her as soon as Harry was out lest any explosion should happen. Lizzie, however, looked rather downcast as, baby being asleep, she went about her work upstairs. My first idea was that some jealousy of Miss Cresswell had invaded the girl’s mind, but that did not explain all the peculiarities of her manner. She certainly allowed herself to{192} be drawn into an account of Domenico’s proceedings, which gradually inspired and animated her; but even in the midst of this she would make a hurried pause, now and then, and listen, as if some painful sound had reached her ear.

“It was a very grand dinner. Eh, I never saw onything like the way he steered, and twisted, and mixed, and watched,” said Lizzie; “he maun be a real man-cook, like what’s in books; and took up everything separate, six different things one after the ither; and Sally says there was as mony plates as if it had been a great party; and the minute before and the minute after, what was the gentleman doing but smoking like as if he was on fire; and eh, mem, he maun be a great man yon! Domenico kissed his hand; but after that,” continued Lizzie, blushing and turning aside with a strong sense of impropriety, “the gentleman kissed him!”

“That is how foreigners do,” said I, in apology.

“And after the dinner there was that sound o’ tongues through the house, you would have thought the walls would ha’e been down. Eh, sic language for Christians to speak! but, mem, they’re no Christians, they’re Papishers—is that true?” said Lizzie, with a little anxiety. “Such a blatter o’ words, and no one a body could understand. No’ that I was wantin’ to understand; but it’s awfu’ funny to hear folk speakin’, and nae sense in’t. Eh, whisht! what was that?” cried Lizzie, starting and stopping short in her tale.

It certainly was, or sounded, very like a moan of pain.

“What is it, Lizzie?”

“Eh, to think of us speaking of dinners, and sic nonsense!—and, mem, it’s a poor man like to dee with pride, and sickness, and starvation! What will I do? What will I do?” cried Lizzie. “If naebody else in the house durst, it maun be me. I’ll no keep quiet ony langer—he canna be ill at me that was destitute mysel’. I’ll gang and steal the bairn’s beef-tea, and tell him lies, that it’s his ain. Mem, let me gang. I canna bear’t ony mair!”

I stopped her, however, growing very much excited myself. “What is it? What do you mean?”

Lizzie, who was choking with distress, eagerness, and excitement, pointed her finger up, and struggled to find her voice. It burst upon me in a moment. The poor gentleman in the attic, the threadbare wistful man who went out to dine, had not been visible for some days. Lizzie told me in gasps what the landlady had told her. He was ill; he was very poor; deeply in Mrs. Goldsworthy’s debt. They had noticed that{193} his usual work had not been on his table for some time, and that no domestic stores of any kind were in his little cupboard; three days ago he had become too ill to go out, they did not think he had anything to eat, and he would accept nothing from them. All yesterday they had not ventured to enter his room. Sick, starving, friendless—what a picture it was! No wonder he had hungry, wistful eyes. I lost no time as you may suppose. I sent Lizzie flying downstairs for the beef-tea. As for asking whether he would admit me or not, whether he would think it impertinent or not, I never stopped to think. Another of those moans, more audible this time because I was listening for it, thrilled me through and through before Lizzie came back. Bless the girl! in no time at all she had got the whitest napkin to be had in the house for the tray; and the beef-tea smoked and smelt just as it ought. I was at the door of the room before I thought anything about how I was to excuse myself. By mere instinct I opened the door first; then knocked, merely to warn the inmate of my coming, and in another moment stood all by myself in a new world.

Another world! a world of misery, endurance, voiceless passion, and persistence, altogether unknown to me. He was lying on some chairs before the fireplace, supporting his gaunt shoulders against the end of his bed,—before the fireplace, in which there was no fire, nor had been. It was trim and well-blacked, and filled up with faded ornamental chippings of paper. His table was beside him, and he leaned one arm on it; nothing on the table, not even a book, except some old pens, blotting-paper, and an ink-bottle. His coat buttoned close up to his neck, with dreadful suggestive secrecy, plainly telling how little there was below; and the hungry sad eyes, glaring wolfish and frenzied out of his worn face. He gave a great start when I came in, and either in passion or weakness thrust one of the chairs from under his feet, so that it fell with a great noise on the floor. The sound and the movement made my heart beat. But he took no further notice, only stared at me. I went forward and put the tray before him on the table, uncovered the basin, placed everything within his reach. All the while he stared at me, his eyes contracting and dilating as I never saw the eyes of any human creature before. I scarcely think he was a human creature at that moment; at least he was holding to his manhood only by that frantic hold of pride, which hunger and misery were rending before my very eyes. He began to tremble dreadfully; the sight of the food excited his weakness; but he tried to resist till the last gasp.{194}

“Who are you? and how dare you come to my room and intrude upon me!” he said hoarsely, and trembling like a palsied man.

“I am your fellow-lodger. You used to notice my baby when you went downstairs; and they told me you were ill, and could not go out. When one is ill there is nothing so good as beef-tea,” said I, trembling a good deal myself; “even if you cannot eat, you might drink a little, and it would refresh you. Do pray try, it will do you good.”

“And how do you know?” he said trembling more and more, till his very utterance was indistinct, “that I cannot have beef-tea or—or anything else I like, of my own. Ah!” he ended, with a sharp cry. He put forward his hand towards it; then he stopped in a dreadful spasm of resistance, and glared at me. I obeyed my first impulse, and went out of the room hurriedly. He would not take it while I was there.

In about five minutes after I went back again with some coals and wood, in one of Mrs. Goldsworthy’s old coal scuttles. I thought I saw how to manage him—never to ask permission or make apologies, but simply to do what was needful. He had emptied the basin, I saw at a glance, and had a piece of bread in his hand, which he put down when I came in. He said nothing, but stared at me as I lighted the fire. When my back was turned to him I fancied he made another stealthy application to the bread. He would hide the full amount of his misery if it were possible; but it was only a partial victory he could obtain over himself.

“Who, who are you?” he said at last. “You—you are a lady, eh? It is not your business to make up fires?”

“Yes,” said I, as cheerfully as I could; “but we are poor; and when one has not much money one has many things to do.”

At this the poor gentleman gave a great groan. Then, after a little, gasped, in broken words, “Thank God! creatures like you don’t know the truths they say.”

I understood him at once. “No,” said I, “it is quite true; but God knows all about it, that is a comfort always. Don’t you think if I put the pillows behind you, you would be more comfortable? Try this. I am quite sure it is better so.”

“Ah! but how do you know I can’t have pillows as I please, and whatever I want of my own?” cried the jealous, delirious pride, waking up again in his big hollow eyes.{195}

“I don’t know anything about it,” said I; “but you have nobody with you just now. If you will not send for any friends, you can’t help having neighbours all the same.”

He said, “Ah!” again, and relapsed into his silent stare. But for the frenzy of desperate want and desperate pride, which only flickered up by moments, he was too far benumbed with want and suffering to do anything in the way of resistance. After I had settled him a little comfortable I went downstairs again, and as soon as baby’s second bowl of beef-tea, which had been hastily made to take the place of the first, was ready, I stole that also, and went up with it again. Baby, who was as fat as possible, could quite well do without it; and I remember having read that people, who had been in great want, should get food very often but not much at a time. The poor gentleman was lying with his head on the pillow and his eyes half shut, the light of the fire glimmering over him, and a kind of quiet in his attitude. When he opened his eyes they grew wolfish again for a moment; but he was subdued—the first frenzy was gone. Somehow he did not seem alone any longer, with that dear good charitable fire blazing and crackling, and making all the noise it could, as if to show what company it could be. And this time he actually drew the basin towards him, and ate its contents before me. I went to the little window and cried a little privately. Oh, it was pitiful! pitiful! That morning I am sure he had laid himself down upon these chairs, mad with want, bitterness, and solitude, to die.{196}

Chapter VII.

“YOU, who would not go out to dinner because you could not afford it!” cried Harry, “how do you dare venture on such rash proceedings? It appears to me you have adopted a new member into the family.”

“Ah, but it is different,” said I; “going out to dinner was a matter of choice, this was a matter of necessity.”

“It depends upon how people think,” said Harry, “the priest and the Levite were of quite a different opinion; but if you mean to have friends and pensioners, and get rich people and poor people about you, Milly darling, we’ll have to think of new supplies. I cannot imagine how it has gone out of my mind all this time. Pendleton actually asked me to-day whether I had heard anything more about your grandfather’s house.”

“My grandfather’s house!” I said; and we both looked at each other and laughed; our removal had put all that out of our heads. Chester, and new places to look at, and new people to see, and just the usual disturbance of one’s thoughts in changing about, had betrayed Harry who was so anxious about it, just as much as it had betrayed me.

“I must see after it now in earnest. A thousand pounds or so, you know,” said Harry, with a kind of serio-comic look, “would be worth a great deal to you just now.”

And with this he went out. A thousand pounds or so! twenty would have been nice; aye, or ten, or even five, more than just our regular money. However, I only laughed to myself, and went upstairs to my poor gentleman. After all, I am not so sure that he was a gentleman, or at least anything unusual in himself. He was very independent, and want, and a passionate dread of being found out, and made a pauper of, had carried him to a kind of heroism for the moment. But when he got used to me, and consented to let me bring him things, he became very much like other people. He was always eager to get the newspaper and see the news. I carried him up the Chester paper, which Mrs. Goldsworthy took in just now.{197}

When I went into his room, the first thing I saw was two letters on the table. He was just drawing back, and still trembling from his exertion, for he was still very weak. He put the letters towards me with a little movement of his hand.

“I am writing to ask for work; I’m wonderfully steady now, wonderfully steady; if they would only give me work! Ah, it’s hard times when a man can’t get work,” he said.

I glanced at them as he wished me. “Cresswell?” said I; “I think I know his daughter, Mr. Ward. I’ll speak to her; perhaps she can make him help you.”

“She can make him do whatever she likes,” said my friend, with his wistful eyes; “it’ll be well for him if she don’t make him do what he’ll repent.”

“How do you mean?” said I, with some surprise.

“Well!” said my patient, “it’s a story I don’t understand, and I can’t give you the rights of it. I was never more than just about the office an hour or so in the day, getting my copy. You see there’s two rich old ladies about half-a-dozen miles out o’ Chester, and there’s either some flaw in their title, or something that way. I know for certain there was an advertisement written out for the Times, for one Mortimer——”


“Yes,” he said, looking at me in his eager way. “I suppose it had been some day when he had quarrelled with them, and meant to bring in the true owner; when all of a sudden it was withdrawn, and has never been in the Times to this day; and Miss Cresswell after that spent a long time at the Park. Somebody said in the office it was more than likely the ladies would leave their property to her; and to be sure if that was so, it would be none of her father’s business to hunt up the right heir.”

I felt completely dizzy and bewildered; I kept looking down upon the table, where the letters seemed to be flitting about with the strangest unsteady motion.

“And are the ladies called Mortimer?” I said, almost under my breath.

“Yes; they’re folks well known in Chester, though seldom to be seen here,” said Mr. Ward; “the youngest one, Miss Milly, is a good creature; the other one, and her name is Sarah, was a great beauty in her day. I remember when I was a lad, we young fellows would walk all that way just to see her riding out of the gates, or driving her grey ponies;{198} they called her the beautiful Miss Mortimer in those days. I daresay now she’s as old, and as crazy, and as chilly—but thank heaven, she can never be as poor, and as friendless, and as suffering—as me.”

I could not make any answer for a long time. I stood with my hands clasped together, and my brain in a perfect whirl; these words, Sarah, Miss Mortimer, the Park, going in gusts through my mind. What did it mean? I had come upstairs with a smile on my lips about the fabulous house of my grandfather. Was this the real story now about to disclose itself? I felt for a moment that overwhelming impatience to hear more which makes one giddy when on the verge of a discovery; but I did not want to betray myself to the old man.

“And do you mean,” said I, holding fast by the table to keep myself from trembling, “that they are not the lawful owners of their estate?”

“Nay, I cannot tell you that,” said my patient, very coolly; “but what could be wanted with an advertisement in the Times for one Mortimer? and old Cresswell holding it back, you know, as soon as it was likely that his girl might get the Park.”

“Do you remember what was the Mortimer’s name that was to be advertised for? I know some Mortimers,” said I, with a little tremble in my voice.

“I can’t say I exactly remember just at this moment,” said the old man, after a little pause. “It wasn’t like a Mortimer name; it was—nay, stay,—it was one of the cotton-spinners’ names; I remember I thought of the spinning-jenny directly; something in that way; I can’t tell exactly what it was.”

I could scarcely stand. I could scarcely keep silent; and yet I durst not, for something that choked the voice in my throat, suggest my father’s name boldly to his recollection. I hurried away and threw myself on a chair in my own room. All was silent there; but with just a door between us Lizzie was playing with my boy; and his crows of infant delight, and her soft but homely voice, seemed to break in upon the solitude I wanted. I rose from that retreat, and went down to our little drawing room. There it was Domenico’s voice, round and full, singing, whistling, talking, all in a breath. Nowhere could I get quiet enough to think over the extraordinary information I had just received. Or, rather, indeed it was not either Lizzie’s voice, or Domenico’s, but the agitation and tumult in my own mind; the beating of my heart, and the stir and restlessness that rose{199} in me, that prevented me from thinking. Could it be possible that my father’s languid prophecy, which Aunt Connor reported so lightly, had truth in it after all? The idea excited me beyond the power of thinking. I went out and came in. I took up various kinds of work and threw them down again; I could do nothing till Harry came in, and I had told him. Then I fancied there might possibly seem some sense and coherence in the news. If this were to come true, then what prospects might be dawning upon us! In this sudden illumination my past dread returned to me, as a fear which has been forgotten for a time always does. The war! if Harry’s wife turned out a great heiress, must not Harry himself cease to be a soldier and enter into his fortune? Ah me! but he would not; he would not if I should ask him on my knees; not, at least, till he had taken his chance of getting killed like all the rest.

This threw me back, with scarcely a moment’s interval, into the full tide of those thoughts which had tortured me before we came to Chester. I got up from my chair and began to walk about the room in the restlessness of great sudden apprehension and terror. All my trouble came back. My fears had but been asleep, the real circumstances were unchanged; even to-day, this very day, Harry might be ordered to the war.

He saw my nervous, troubled look in a moment when he came in; he was struck by it at once. “You look as you once looked in Edinburgh, Milly,” he said, coming up to me; “what is the matter? Something has happened while I have been away?”

“Harry,” cried I, with a little excitement, suddenly remembering that I had news to tell him. “I have found the Park and the Sarah; I have found the estate I am heiress to; I have found out something far more important than that old red-brick house; and, do you know, hearing of this brought everything to my mind directly, all my terrors and troubles. Never mind, I’ll tell you what I heard in the first place. It was from my poor gentleman upstairs.”

Harry, who had heard me with great interest up to this point, suddenly shrugged up his shoulders, and put his lips together with that disdainful provoking whew! with which men think they can always put one down.

“Oh, indeed, you need not be scornful!” said I; “he writes papers for a lawyer, and had a very good way of knowing. He says Mr. Cresswell had an advertisement all ready to be put{200} into the Times some months ago, for one Mortimer, whose name reminded him of a spinning-jenny. But it never was sent to the paper, because Miss Cresswell went out to the Park, and it was thought the ladies would make her their heiress; but it was supposed there was some flaw in their title, and that this Mortimer would be the true heir.”

“The Park, and the ladies, and Miss Cresswell, and it was supposed? By Jove, Milly!” cried Harry, with great vehemence, “do you see how important this is?—have you no better grounds than it was thought, and, it was supposed?”

“You are unreasonable, Harry; I only heard what he had to say; and, besides, it might not be my father, nor the same people at all. He could not tell me, I only heard what he had to say.”

But this explanation did not satisfy Harry; he became as excited as I had been, but in a different way. He snatched up his hat, and would have gone at once, on the impulse of the moment, to see Mr. Cresswell, had not I detained him. The news had the same influence on Harry that it had on me. It woke us both out of that happy quiescence into which we had fallen when we came here. We were no longer dwelling at peace, safe in each other’s society; once more we were thrown into all the agitation that belonged to our condition and prospects.

Harry was a soldier, ready to be sent off any day to the camp and the trenches, gravely anxious about a home and shelter for his wife and child; I, a soldier’s wife, ready at any moment to have the light of my eyes torn from me, and my life cut in twain. After the first hurried burst of consultation, we were both silent, thinking on these things. Certainly it was better that we should have been aroused. The reality coming at once, all unapprehended and unthought of, would otherwise have been an intolerable blow. Now there was little fear that we could forget again.

It was natural that we should return to the subject again and again during the day. Harry drew my father’s old books, and the drawing he had laughed at, from his own desk, where he had kept them; and with them the envelope, full of formal documents, which he had written to Aunt Connor for with so much haste and importance, to substantiate my claim to my grandfather’s house; there they lay, unused, almost unlooked at. Harry shook his head as he drew them out. We neither of us said anything. We were neither of us sorry that we had forgotten all about it for a time. For my own part, I went{201} away upstairs very like to cry. This information, which had thrown us back into so many troubles, might never come to anything; and even if it did, what difference would that make? Harry, if I was found out to be a king’s daughter, would never leave his profession, or shrink from its dangers, while this war lasted. My pleasant forgetfulness was over now. He was looking at this subject in the same light he had looked at it before we left Edinburgh;—it would be a home for me.{202}

Chapter VIII.

IT was an agitated, troubled day. The accidental nature of the information, calmly told to one who was supposed to have no interest in it; the coincidence of the names; the startled feeling we had in thus being suddenly brought into contact with people nearly connected with us, who were unaware of our existence, and of whose existence we had been unaware, acted very powerfully on our imaginations. I don’t think either Harry or I had a moment’s doubt upon the subject. As to the identity of the persons, certainly none; and I confess that I, for one, received with perfect faith the suggestion that there was a wrong somehow in the matter, and that my father had turned out to be the true heir. It never occurred to me to imagine any other reason for the suppressed advertisement; and Mr. Cresswell, whom I had thought at the very climax of respectability, suddenly descended into a romantic lawyer-villain in my excited eyes.

To add to the agitation of my thoughts, Sara Cresswell chose to take that day for one of her odd visits. She came in the afternoon to stay with me till evening. She was clearly quite beyond her father’s control; not even subject to a wholesome restriction of hours and meal-times; for she never said her father was out to dinner on the occasions of her coming, nor accounted in any way for her liberty at his dinner-hour. The little brougham used to come for her at night, and her little maid in it—a sign, I suppose, that the father did not disapprove; but that was all. Only wilful as she was, I confess I had grown to like her very much. I sometimes lectured her; and once or twice we quarrelled; but she always came back next time just the same as ever. So quarrelling with her was evidently useless. I must say I had a very strange sensation in welcoming her to-day. Could she know her father’s base purposes about the Park which, according to all appearances, ought to be mine? Could she have been paying her court to those ladies with the hope of supplanting the true heir? A glance at her face, only too frank and daring always, might have{203} undeceived me; but of course, I was bucklered up in my own thoughts, and could see nothing else.

“You are ill,” said Sara, “or you are worried; or ’tis I have done something. If I have, I don’t mind; that is to say, I am very sorry, of course, and I will never do it again. But if you think you will get rid of me by looking glum, you are sadly mistaken. I shan’t go. If you won’t have me for a friend, I shall come for a servant, and fight it out with Lizzie. Lizzie, will you have me for ‘a neebor?’ Ah, I’m learning Scotch.”

“Eh, that’s no Scotch!” cried Lizzie; “ye dinna ken what it is. I’m, maybe, no that good at learning folk now, for I have to speak English mysel’.”

“And Italian, Lizzie!” cried Sara, clapping her hands, and forgetting all about my “glum” face.

Lizzie’s elbows and ankles fell almost immediately, and the most extraordinary blush rose on the girl’s face. “Eh, but it’s funny to hear twa speaking’t,” cried Lizzie, evading the subject eagerly. The truth is, she had got overmuch involved in the delightful excitement of the new language, and in consequence of the ludicrous fascination of the dictionary, by means of which Domenico and she conducted their conversations, had come to like the society of that worthy. When I found him escorting my child-maid and the baby out-of-doors, I thought it was time to remonstrate on the subject; and my remonstrance had woke a certain womanly consciousness in the awkward-sensitive girlish bosom of Lizzie. She was overwhelmed with shame.

Fortunately, the mention of the “twa” diverted Sara’s thoughts. She had never ceased to be interested in Mr. Luigi, and I saw a world of questions in her eye immediately. I hurried her downstairs, not feeling able, really, for random talk; and troubled, more than I could express, to think how disappointed Harry would be when he came home full of one subject, expecting to talk it over with me, and found me occupied entertaining a stranger,—a stranger, too, who had something to do with it, who was our rival, and plotting against us, all unaware of who we were.

However, as it happened, one of the first things Sara’s eye lighted upon when we entered the room, was that old drawing of poor papa’s, which lay on the table. She was the quickest creature imaginable. She had it in her hand before I knew what she was about. Her exclamation made me start and tremble as if I had been found out in something.{204} Here was another witness giving evidence freely, without any wish or contrivance of mine.

“Why, here is the Park!” cried Sara, “actually the very house! Where, in all the world, did you get it? Have you been there? Do you know them? Why, I thought you were quite strangers to Chester! I never knew anything so odd. Who did it? It is frightfully bad, to be sure, but a staring likeness. Dear Mrs. Langham, where did you get this?”

“I got it out of an old book,” said I, with a guilty faltering which I could not quite conceal. “What Park is it? where is it? I do not know the place.”

But I am sure if ever anybody looked guilty and the possessor of an uncomfortable secret, it was me at that moment. I turned away from Sara, putting away that envelope with the certificates which Harry (how careless!) had also left on the table. I am sure she must have felt there was something odd in my voice.

“What Park? why, the Park, to be sure. Everybody in Chester knows the Park; and here is an inscription, I declare!” she cried, running with it to the window. “Oh, look here; do look here! It must have been some old lover of godmamma Sarah’s. I never saw anything so funny in my life. ‘Sarah as I saw her last.’ Oh, Mrs. Langham! do come and look at this comical, delightful thing! Isn’t it famous? She’s as old—as old as any one’s grandmother. Who could it be? who could it possibly be?”

“Did you say your godmother?” said I. This was another novel aggravation. Of course I had heard Sara speak of her godmothers; but, somehow, I had not identified them with the ladies who were expected to make her their heir.

But Sara was too much excited and delighted, and full of glee and ridicule, to answer me. She kept dancing about and clapping her hands over the drawing; always returning to it, and indulging in criticisms as free and as depreciatory as Harry’s had been. It was getting dark, and I confess I was very glad to sit down a little in the half light, and repose myself as well as I could while she was thus engaged and wanted no attention from me. Just then, however, I heard Harry’s foot coming upstairs, and, to my great wonder and almost alarm, somebody else entered with Harry. I could scarcely see him as I rose to receive my husband’s companion. Somebody else, however, saw{205} him quicker than I did. In a moment Sara had dropped into the shadow of the curtains, and became perfectly silent. An inconceivable kind of sympathy with her (it could be nothing but mesmerism) somehow cleared up the twilight in a moment, and made me aware who the stranger was. It was Domenico’s master, Mr. Luigi, the Italian gentleman downstairs.

I cannot tell how the first preliminaries were got over. Of all times in the world to make acquaintance with anybody, think of the twilight, just before the candles came in, and when you could scarcely make out even the most familiar face! We got on somehow, however; we three—Sara sitting all the time dropt down, and nestling like a bird among the curtains, struck into the most unaccountable silence. I suppose she thought nobody saw her; whereas, on the contrary, Mr. Luigi, looking out of the darkness where he was sitting towards the window, saw the outline of her pretty head against a bit of green-blue sky as distinct as possible; and looked at it too, as I can testify.

When candles came at last (Mrs. Goldsworthy had a lamp; but it smoked, and the chimney broke, and all sorts of things happened to it), after the first dazzled moment we all looked at each other. Then Sara became clearly visible, and was forced out of her corner to let the blind be drawn down. She came forward to the light at once, with just the least bravado in her manner, ashamed of hiding herself. She had still the drawing in her hand.

“Mr. Langham,” said Sara, “do you know this wonderful drawing? I never was so amused and amazed in my life. Do you know it’s the Park? and my godmamma Sarah when she was a young lady and a great beauty. To think you should find it accidentally! And it must have been one of her old lovers who did it. Oh, please give it to me, and let me show it her. She would be pleased. She would soon find out whose it was.”

Here Mr. Luigi, who had taken up one of those old books of my father’s, which Harry in his carelessness had left upon the table, uttered a very brief instantly suppressed exclamation. I wonder what he could have discovered! It was the copy of Racine, which I have before mentioned as among papa’s books, on which was written the name of Sarah Mortimer. Sarah Mortimer! Here were we all strangers, or almost strangers, to each other, all apparently startled by the sound and sight of this name. What could the Italian have to do with Sarah{206} Mortimer? she who broke poor papa’s heart, and whom we had found out so suddenly to-day?

“This lady?” said Mr. Luigi, holding up the book to me with a slight tremulousness, “Madame will not think me impertinent; does she live?”

“Indeed,” said I, with a shiver of agitation, “I cannot tell. I do not know anything about her; her name on that book and the drawing is all we know. I think she is a ghost. Do you too know her name? Sara, tell us, for pity’s sake, who is this Sarah Mortimer of the Park?”

Sara stared at the book with still greater amazement than she had shown at the drawing. “She is my godmamma,” said the girl, in a disturbed, amazed tone. “She is Miss Mortimer of the Park. Since you all know her name, you all know that certainly. How is it you know her? why did you not tell me? Is there any mystery? it all seems very strange to me.”

“Then it is that lady,” exclaimed Mr. Luigi—“it is that lady I did meet in the village.”

“No,” said Sara, recovering herself in a moment; “you met my other godmamma, her sister. She told me she had met you. May I ask if you found the lady in Manchester? Godmamma was very much interested and anxious to know. Did you find her? have you heard where she is to be found?”

Mr. Luigi looked at the book once more; then closed it down firmly with his hand; then gazed a little anxiously in Sara’s face. “Have I found the lady?” he repeated like an echo. “Mademoiselle, I do not know.”

Then the Italian, as if with an instinctive motion, laid his other hand over the book, and clasped them both upon it as though to hold something fast. Then to my amazement and to Sara’s—but to something more than amazement on Sara’s part—something very much like pique and offence—he turned towards Harry and began to talk on indifferent matters. I had noticed a half-weary, half-impatient sigh escape him as he laid his hands over that book; but he showed no other symptom of emotion. The next moment he was talking in very good English, slightly, very slightly, broken with now and then a foreign idiom, something about public affairs. I confess I felt disappointed as well as Sara. He had recognised that name; somehow it was familiar to him; and his enigmatical answer had naturally stimulated our curiosity. He left us behind him staring and wondering, when he suddenly glided from the brink of some revelation to those quiet remarks upon English politics. Harry, full of his share of the common{207} excitement, did not enter into it with half so much heart as Mr. Luigi. Harry blundered and was awkward, his thoughts being elsewhere. Mr. Luigi was quite undisturbed and at his ease. Sara scarcely spoke again while he remained; she did all but turn her back upon him; she showed her pique quite clearly enough to catch the quick eye of the Italian. Altogether he did not stay very long, thinking us, I daresay, rather an uncomfortable party; and Harry, disappointed, as I had expected, not to find me alone, and be able to hold a comfortable consultation, went downstairs with him to smoke a cigar.

“Now they are gone,” cried Sara; “now the man in the iron mask has left us. I wonder if that is what one would call a romantic Italian? ah! I’d rather have fat Domenico. Now they’re gone, do tell me, once for all, what is godmamma Sarah to you?”

“Nothing in the world that I know of,” said I, faltering a little; “we have only that drawing and her name in the old book.”

“I know there is something between her and him,” said Sara, returning, to my great dismay to the other books on the table; “she knows about him, or he knows about her, or something. You know she was a long time abroad. What funny old books! Was it among those you found the drawing? But, stop, here is another Mortimer—Richard A. Mortimer—who is he? Papa has been their agent for centuries, and I have known them all my life, but I never heard of a Richard Mortimer. Do tell me, who was he?”

“Indeed, it is all very odd,” cried I, really fluttered out of my self-possession. “I wonder what will come of it? It is very strange and bewildering. Richard Mortimer was my father.”

“Then you are a relation!” cried Sara; “you must be a relation, there are so few Mortimers; and your father must have been her lover. Are you sure, are you quite sure? Why, your name must be Mortimer too! and Milly! Mr. Langham calls you Milly—Milly Mortimer! Oh, dear, dear! I never can get to the Park to tell them to-night, and how shall I contain myself till to-morrow? I knew there must be something that made me love you so much at first sight. To be sure, that explains everything. Milly Mortimer! oh, you dear, pretty, good, delightful Mrs. Langham! I am so glad, so happy! They are my godmothers, and so to be sure we are relations too!”{208}

Upon which Sara threw her arms round me in a wild, rapid embrace. I was so very much shaken and disturbed with all that had happened, that I could scarcely bear this last. I remember using all my remaining power to convince her that the relationship was by no means certain still, and that it was not to be communicated to the ladies at the Park without further assurance. Sara, however, only overpowered me with caresses and exclamations. She entirely upset all the remaining strength I had. She kept us from that consultation which Harry and I were both so much longing for. She left us at last in terror lest we should be brought into immediate contact with those unknown relatives. This day of great news, excitement, and perplexity, was, I think, the most exhausted, uncomfortable day I ever met with in all my life.{209}

Chapter IX.

“IT is the oddest business altogether that I had ever anything to do with,” said Harry, next morning; “one cannot tell what step to take first. My own idea, of course, is to call on this old Cresswell and get it all out of him. He evidently is the man who knows.”

“Ah, but, Harry, if he is one of those scheming lawyers,” said I, “why should he go and betray his clients for people whom he never heard of before? and, besides, it would be impossible to tell him how we got information about it, for you could not speak of the advertisement without ruining poor Mr. Ward.”

“Milly, I may be sorry enough for your poor Mr. Ward, but I am more interested a great deal in your rights,” said Harry; “besides, if everything came true we could make it up to him. I see nothing for it but going to old Cresswell. He will be glad—since he did think of an advertisement—to have such a rod of terror to hold over the heads of his old ladies; at all events we shall know what it is. It might come to nothing after all,” said Harry, with a little sigh, “and there is nothing more injurious than to be kept uncertain. Why, to tell the truth, I feel extravagant this morning: I got up with the feeling. I should like to go and ruin myself in accordance with the sentiment of the moment. If it’s all true, why should we be economical?—your grandfather’s red brick house on one side, and this Park on the other. We’re lucky people, Milly. I’ll either go and see old Cresswell and have it out with him, or I’ll go and throw away every shilling I have.”

“Ah, Harry, give it to me,” I said, holding out my hands; “but I don’t believe you have any money, so it doesn’t matter. Only—just wait a little, please; don’t let us do things hastily. Think of thrusting our claims suddenly upon two old ladies who perhaps have enjoyed it all their life. Only think of us two, young and happy, disturbing the lives of two old people who are not so fortunate as we are! Not to-day; let us try to get other proof first. Try if Mr. Pendleton knows anything—write to Haworth again. At least, don’t let us be hasty; a{210} day or two cannot matter; and I don’t trust this Mr. Cresswell,” cried I, with some vehemence. “He cannot be honest, or he would not have done such a thing.”

Harry laughed at my earnestness. He said lawyer-villains had gone out of fashion, and that there were no Mr. Gammons now-a-days. The truth is, we had both been reading novels since we came to Chester, and I am not at all sure that Harry was as sceptical about Mr. Gammon as he professed to be. But, to my consolation, he went out without any definite purpose of beginning his proceedings. “I daresay old Cresswell is an old humbug,” said Harry. “I’ll see whether there is not some other old fellow about who is up to everybody’s genealogy; surely there ought to be some such person about the Cathedral. And I’ll write to Pendleton, Milly. To be sure, there is nothing to hurry us. ‘Let us take time, that we may be done the sooner.’ I’ll do nothing desperate to-day.”

When he was gone I felt a little sense of relief. I sat long in the same chair, with the table still littered with the breakfast things, neglecting my duties and even baby. He had been brought downstairs before Harry went out, and was now sitting at my feet on the carpet, playing with my work-basket, which much contented him. I did not observe the havoc that was taking place, but sat still in a tumult of thoughts which I could not describe. I suppose nobody ever did come to a sudden knowledge—or even fancy—that they might be found out heirs of a great estate without feeling fluttered. I was half afraid of the thought, yet it had a strange, vague, bewildering exhilaration in it. Sometimes a trembling shadow would cross my mind of my old spectre; but it had faded again to-day into the agitation of surprised and trembling hopes. One does not always feel the same even about one’s own terrors. And, upon the whole, I felt raised into a kind of general elevation, thrust up above myself into another region, capable of being kinder, more liberal and magnanimous than I had ever felt before. I suppose it must have been the same feeling which Harry had when he said he felt extravagant. I could have emptied my purse to a beggar, I believe,—at least I could have found it in my heart to give him sixpence instead of a penny,—to such an extent had this vague, exhilarating rich feeling carried me away.

Lizzie looked a little mysterious when I called her at last. She was bursting with something to tell; and when I addressed some ordinary question to her, her news broke forth suddenly without any introduction. “Eh, the gentleman’s awa’ again,” cried Lizzie, “and he thinks she maun be found or heard tell{211} o’—he thinks there maun be word of her. The gentleman’s awa’ back where he was, to bring something he left, and ‘Menico says, as sure’s death she maun be found.”

“Who must be found?”

“Eh, mem, it’s the leddy! They came a’ this gate, ower the hills and the seas, to find a leddy. I canna just understand wha she is,” said Lizzie, “but she’s some freend; and ‘Menico’s clear she maun be found now, and he’s dancing like to bring down the house for joy.”

“But you don’t look very joyful, Lizzie; what is the matter?” said I.

Lizzie made a desperate effort to restrain herself, but, failing, burst into violent tears. “Eh, he’s written me a letter!” cried the girl, sobbing; and then, with much fumbling, eyes blind with tears, and a face all glowing with shame, the letter came forth from the bosom of Lizzie’s dress, and was thrust into my hand.

Alas for my self-congratulations over Lizzie’s childish age! Fourteen, after all, it appeared, was no safeguard. But I was as much amused as troubled when I undid Domenico’s letter. It was written on odd thin paper, in a very tolerable hand; it was addressed to the Elizabeth Bain, and its contents were as follows:

“To the my little good Lessee.

“You be good child; if the lady yours will, I take you to the theatre after to-morrow, for gratitude. To me you show of bounty, I to you of thanks. There be grand sight at the theatre which will please to you. Show the Signora yours this letter mine, and ask if permission. It will much please to me to make festa for my little good Lessee. There be none word in English for festa, for because the English not know to make it.


“But, Lizzie,” cried I, in surprise, “there is nothing in this to cry about. He only means to be kind, poor fellow. There is not a word in all this that sounds like——”

Love-making, I was about to have said, but paused, partly in respect for the innocence of the girl, and partly ashamed of myself for my instinctive suspicion that flirtation was inevitable when “a foreigner,” however fat, was in the case. Lizzy had wiped her eyes and was looking at me wistfully, quite ready to sob again.

“Oh, it’s no him,” cried Lizzie; “he’s a papist, puir man,{212} and he doesna ken ony better. But oh, mem, it’s me—me that was weel brought up, and learned the catechism and ay gaed to the kirk; and what will I do? what will I do?”

“For pity’s sake, Lizzie, tell me what is the matter?” cried I, really alarmed.

Lizzie burst into tears once more. She wiped her eyes with her apron, with hot and humid hands; then, casting a pathetic glance at me from under the drapery, sobbed forth the dreadful confession, “Oh, mem! though I think burning shame, and ken it’s dreadful, I canna help it—I would like to gang!”

This anti-climax was too much for my gravity, and Lizzie looked on with moist, uncomprehending eyes at the burst of laughter which I could not restrain. Poor Lizzie! I have no doubt she thought me very heartless neither to satisfy her guilty desires after such vanities, nor her scruples of conscience and violent shame at her own weakness. Baby, however, was more sympathetic. Seeing his beloved Lizzie in tears, a fellow-feeling made him scream in concert. He had to be consoled, though his nurse went away wistful, trembling lest I should consent, and lest I should not consent. But privately I confess I was very much relieved and not a little ashamed of myself. To think I should have suspected any absurd love-making between these two! I felt ready to go and ask poor Lizzie’s pardon. But why should not she go to the theatre and satisfy her mind? Domenico could not be less than twenty years older than herself. On the whole, this little episode quite increased the lightness of my spirits. The day was bright, the spring was every hour becoming more sweet, and as I sat there by myself with my child in the little back-room, noting the sunshine, which did not reach us, fall sweet upon the little walled-in gardens at the back, a sudden project which had already glanced through my mind, became feasible on the moment. Yes, I should do it. Lizzie and the baby, for a breath of country air, should go with me. By actual witness of my own eyes I would identify the Park.{213}

Chapter X.

THE next day Harry had duties of one sort and another, which would completely occupy his time. He had not found any student of genealogy who could tell him all about the Mortimers of the Park; but he had heard of one, and, between that and his duty, was full engaged both in person and thoughts. A better opportunity could not be. I told him I thought of taking a long walk into the country with Lizzie and baby this beautiful day; and, except a warning not to go too far and weary myself, Harry had nothing to say against my intention. I may say, however, that in the meantime, having consulted with him on the subject, I had plunged Lizzie’s mind into the most dread commotion of terror, delight, and curiosity, by consenting to Domenico’s proposal, only adding Mrs. Goldsworthy to the party, to make all right.

And it was true that Mr. Luigi had disappeared again; he was only to be three days gone, Domenico assured us, holding up three of his fingers. “Tree sola, tree only,” repeated the fat fellow once more, blocking up the passage as of old; and once more, with that inimitable wheel and elastic step of his, opening the door before any one could approach it. I could not help wondering to myself whether the Italian gentleman was likely to leave Chester before we did; certainly the loss of Domenico would make quite a difference in the house. I had not thought quite so much as I might have been supposed to have done about this Italian gentleman. He too had recognised the name of Sarah Mortimer as having some influence on his fate. He had left early next morning, as if acting upon the knowledge he had gained, whatever that might be. It was very strange; afterwards, of course, I came to lay everything together, and wonder at myself that I had not seen how things were tending. But at the moment I was full of my own thoughts; they seemed so very much more important to me just then than anything else. I dismissed Mr. Luigi with just half a thought of surprise and curiosity; I dare say Sara Cresswell had thought more of him. And Sara had not come to me through all that long intervening day. Could she{214} have gone to the Park to tell the news? would they acknowledge or pretend to disown us? That was a question far more interesting to me than all the Italians in the world.

The private object of my expedition, however, was one I was truly ashamed to mention to anybody; but, for all that, it had taken a great hold upon myself. I have said I had been reading novels; and the very last one we had from the library was “Ten Thousand a Year.” It struck upon my mind even at the very moment when poor Mr. Ward had told me first. Those dear, good, delightful, fine, superfine Aubreys! to think of all their sufferings, the poor dear superlative people—how dreadfully they felt it to have only a maid waiting at table! Oh me! and only to think that here might we ourselves be bringing about such another calamity! Of course you may think it was very fantastical. I do confess that the dreadful downfall of having only a maid to wait, seemed to me, at first sight, the most fine distress I had ever heard of; but it took a hold upon my mind all the same; I could not help imagining to myself the other side of the picture. It was very pleasant to think of falling heirs to a great estate, and being lifted in a moment from poverty into great wealth; but who were those two pathetic figures turning away from the closed door of the house which had been their home so long, mournfully settling down in their new straitened quarters, breaking up all the habits of their lives, missing somehow in an unspoken way, that it would be ludicrous to express in words, but was far from ludicrous to feel, all the grander circumstances of their life? Ah! that was quite a different question. I thought I could see them sighing over their contracted rooms, their fallen state—not speaking, falling silent rather, life going out and ebbing away from them. I saw the two pale old lofty faces, the pride, the submission, the deep sense of downfall concealed in their hearts, and I felt myself stopped short in my way. Those ineffable Aubreys, those figures painted on velvet, those dear porcelain creatures, with their exquisite troubles, had an effect upon my imagination, even though I might venture to smile at them sometimes. Superfine people, to be sure, must have superfine afflictions; and to think of being a Tittlebat Titmouse, and driving out such angels from their paradise into the cold-hearted, unsympathetic world, that cared no more whether they had a six-foot footman and a carriage, than it cared about myself, a subaltern’s poor wife, driving out of Chester in an omnibus! So this was the real cause of my journey. I went remorsefully, thinking all the{215} way how Mrs. Aubrey swooned at all emergencies. I wonder, when they heard the dreadful power we had over them, would Miss Sarah and Miss Milly swoon in each other’s arms? I could see them going about, stricken silent, afraid to look at each other; and it would be all our doing. Remorseful to my very heart, I went to visit their village and ask about them, and see the house if I could. Perhaps some arrangement might be made, after all, to prevent any loss to these poor dear old ladies. I felt as if I could have done anything for them, my heart was so compunctious and repentant of the power we had to do them harm. I am not sure my great magnanimousness did not have a root in what Harry called feeling extravagant, as well as in “Ten Thousand a Year.”

We went out a considerable part of the way in an omnibus, and then walked. After a good long walk through a nice country, we saw a pretty common a little way before us: I call it pretty because some parts of it were very unequal and broken, having gorse bushes, with here and there a golden honey-bud among the prickles. To get to the common, we crossed over a very clean, nicely kept piece of road, straight and smooth, leading down to the village from the gates of a great house. The house was too far off to make it out, but I felt my heart beat a little, knowing, from the description I had got, that it could be no other than the Park.

I left Lizzie and her charge seated on the soft grass of the common, where baby, who had never before known anything so delightful, began to pluck at the crowflowers with his fat hands; and went down into the village to buy them some biscuits. I confess I felt very guilty. Going anywhere all by myself confused me, not being accustomed to it; but I was not an innocent stranger here; I was a spy in my rival’s kingdom; I was a Bolingbroke pretending to acknowledge the sway of the existing sovereign: I was going to traffic with his subjects and tamper with them. If the village authorities had found me out, and held a court-martial and hanged me on the spot, I think I should have acknowledged the justice of their decision. I was a spy.

It was a nice village—a nice, well cared-for, tidy, yet not too picturesque or unnatural village; looking as if the richer people about were friendly and sensible, not interfering too much, but keeping up a due reverence and influence. Some tall bushes of broom were actually bursting into yellow streaks over the garden palings—not wall—of a house standing back a little, which I found out to be the Rectory. It must have been{216} very sheltered and warm, for it was still only April. However, though I was full of curiosity, my mind was not sufficiently disengaged to carry away a clear picture of the village; and when the women looked out from the doors at me with an instinct that a stranger was passing, I felt more guilty than ever. I made my way accordingly to the baker’s as fast as I could, and got some dark-complexioned ponderous buns there, which I felt sure would rouse Lizzie’s national sense of superiority to great triumph. Then I made a tremulous excuse of wanting some biscuits besides, and so got a little time to bring forward the questions I had prepared.

“Who is it that lives in the great house at the other end of the village?” said I hypocritically, pointing with my finger towards the Park.

“Who is it?” said the baker’s wife, leaning on her counter with a certain contempt and admiration of my ignorance; “law bless you, ma’am, you don’t know this place, seemingly. Them’s the Miss Mortimers, the oldest family in Cheshire. They’re as well known as the Queen about here.”

“I am a stranger,” said I hurriedly. “Are they ladies—I mean are they young ladies? were there no sons?”

The baker’s wife leaned back upon a sack of flour, and laughed. “Miss Milly’s godmoother to half the village,” she said; “she’s none that young, she’s isn’t. No, there wasn’t no son. I’ve heard my mother say there was once talk of making Miss Mortimer an ouldest son like, but it couldn’t be done. They’re cooheiresses, that’s what it’s ca’ed—I’ve seen it written down myself—cooheiresses of the late Lewis Esquire; that’s the name it goes by; and as they ain’t married it’s no harm.”

“Did they succeed their father, then?” said I.

“And that they did,” cried the woman, “and their father’s father, and grandfather, and great-grandfather, as far back as I don’t know when; they’re no mushroom folks, the folks in the Park.”

I felt very much puzzled and perplexed; how could my father, then, have anything to do with it? It was very strange.

“But I suppose the lands were entailed, then, or something of that sort. Was there never another heir that claimed? I think you must be wrong,” said I, betraying myself in my wonder and haste.

The baker’s wife opened her eyes wide and stared; then laughed out rather scornfully—politeness is not the first rule either of life or speech in Cheshire.{217}

“I’ve lived here in the village all my life,” she said; “if I don’t know, I’d like to hear who should. Nay, nay, there never was a dream of another heir; they’re surer nor most folks are the Miss Mortimers. There ain’t scarce one living belonging to them to get it when they’re gone. I tell you what it is, it’s a mistake. You’re thinking on Eden Hall.”

“Oh!” said I, “perhaps! I am a stranger here.”

“Sure you’re strange,” said the baker’s wife; “any one in the village could tell that. Ne’er a one asked such questions o’ me—nor any questions at all, but the price of bread, and how the crops are to be, except that Frenchman with the moustache. You’re not belonging to him, are you? You’re English by your speech.”

“Oh yes, I’m English,” cried I, not without a vague momentary vision of the village court-martial, and being hung up for a spy. “I will take my change, please.”

And I took my change, and went away with quickened steps but changed feelings. I had not the heart to speak to anybody else. I passed old women at the doors, who, no doubt, could have told something about it; but I did not venture to make any more inquiries. I was completely lost in perplexity. The undisputed representatives of a race, the heirs of father, grandfather, and great-grandfather to unknown antiquity—what could be urged against their possession? I was startled into sudden doubt of the whole matter. What if it were all a deception? The very pathway swam and twisted under my eyes. When I reached the common, and threw myself wearily on the grass beside little Harry and his maid, I felt quite a different person from her who had left them there. I gave Lizzie the coarse buns, but I did not listen to the comments which came as I knew they would. I was far too much bewildered and shaken out of my fancies to be amused. After I had rested awhile, I got up, and, taking them with me, went up, rather faltering, to the gates of the Park. A little lodge, half hidden among evergreen bushes, was at the gate. I went forward, Lizzie following me close, to ask if we might be permitted to look at the house.

But, just as I was going up to the door, I was accosted by a lady who came hurriedly forward by a side-path. She held out her hand to stop us before she came up, and full of fanciful alarm as I was, I stopped, startled, with again the sensation of having been found out. She was middle-sized and stout, with a plump, handsome figure and sensible, kind face—very sensible, very kind, not brilliant at all; and, I think, with as much{218} perplexed thought and anxiety upon it, as there was on mine.

“Don’t go into the lodge with the baby, please,” she cried, as soon as she was near; “the little girl has the hooping-cough. It’s always best to keep out of the way of danger. If I can tell you what you want, shall be very glad. I see you’re a stranger; or if you want to see Mrs. Williams, send away the baby, please. Hooping-cough’s very catching, and it’s hard upon such a young child.”

This voice and this speech completely overpowered me. I could not doubt for a moment that this was one of the Miss Mortimers. I was no longer a mere spy; I was an unnatural traitor. I motioned Lizzie with my hand to go away, but stood still speechless myself, the tears rising to my eyes. The lady stood waiting to see what I wanted, but discovering my distress, as some people can, came a little closer to me. “Are you ill? can I help you in anything?” she said, looking very pitifully and kindly into my wet eyes.

“No, thank you. I was going to ask if I might look at the Park; but I must make haste after baby,” I cried. I had the impulse to curtsey to her as children do; for anything I know I did it. The only thing that I am certain of is, that as fast as my feet would carry me, I hastened away.{219}

Chapter XI.

WE were able to get the same omnibus going home, which I was very glad of, for the strange defeat I had received made me feel doubly weary with the walk, which, after all, had not been a very long one. There was only one person in this omnibus, which was not a town omnibus, you know, but one which went between Chester and an important village, seven or eight miles off. He was an elderly man, very well dressed in black, with a white cravat. To tell the plain truth, I took him for a dissenting preacher by his dress; and as he looked very serious and respectable, and was very polite in helping us to get in, we had some little conversation after a while. When he saw me look at the houses we passed with an appearance of interest, he told me the names of them, or who they belonged to. He was exceedingly polite and deferential, so polite that he called me ma’am, which sounded odd; but I could only suppose he was an old-fashioned person and liked such antiquated ways of expression. I confess a suspicion of his real condition never crossed my mind. But he evidently knew everybody, and after a while my prevailing idea woke up again.

“Do you know,” said I, with a little hesitation, “the family at the Park—the Miss Mortimers? I should very much like to hear something about them.”

“There’s nobody I know better, ma’am,” said our companion with a slight look of surprise; “I’ve been with—that is, I’ve known ’em this fifty years.”

“Oh, then will you please tell me how they succeeded?” said I; “how did they come into the estate?”

“How they succeeded?” said the stranger, with a certain slow wonder and amazement; “why, ma’am, in the natural way, after their father as was Squire before them.”

Here I could not help thinking to myself that the dissenting clergy must be dreadfully uneducated, if this were one of them.

“But was there never any gap in the succession?” said I; “has it been in a straight line? has there been no break lately—no branch of the family passed over?”{220}

“Bless you, ma’am, you don’t know the Mortimers,” said our friend; “there’s never enough of them to make branches of the family. There was a second cousin the young ladies had a many years ago, but I never heard of no more of them, and he was distant like, and had no more thoughts of succession than I had. If that gen’lman was alive or had a family, things might be different now.”

“How do you mean things might be different now?” cried I.

“The ladies, ma’am, has never married,” said the man, who certainly could not be more than a Methodist local preacher at the utmost, “and, in the course of nature, there can’t be no natural heir.”

This view of the subject, however, was one totally unsatisfactory to me. “Are you sure,” said I, “that there never was any other heir spoken of—that there never was any story about the succession—that there was never anybody to dispute it with the Miss Mortimers? I thought I had heard some such story about——”

“Ah, you’re thinking, ma’am, of Eden Hall, just the next property,” said he.

“But was there never any claimant to the Park?” asked I, somewhat excited.

“No such thing,” said the man in black, “nor couldn’t be. Bless you, the family’s well known. There never was so much as a will-case, as I ever heard on; for why, you see, ma’am, there never was such a plenty of children to make quarrels. When there’s but two or so, there’s little can come of quarrelling. No, no! there never was no strange claimant to our estate.”

“To your estate, did you say?” cried I, in amazement.

“No, ma’am, no—no such presumption. I said our, and sure I might; I’ve been with the ladies this fifty year.”

“Oh!” I exclaimed, much dismayed. This was certainly coming to the very head-quarters for information. This was no local preacher after all, but only the Miss Mortimers’ majordomo. If there had been any possible excuse for it, I should certainly have got out of the omnibus immediately, so utterly confounded and taken aback did I feel. But as we were still some two miles out of Chester, and we were all tired, and baby cross and sleepy, I had to think better of it. However, in my consternation I fell into instant silence, and felt really afraid of meeting the man’s eye. He sat opposite me, beside Lizzie, very respectful and quiet, and by no means obtruding himself upon my notice. I cannot tell how shocked and affronted and angry{221} I felt with myself. I had, I suppose, like most people of my condition, a sort of horror of men-servants, a sort of resentful humiliation in feeling that I had mistaken one of that class for an ordinary fellow-traveller, a frightened idea of what Harry would think to hear of his wife sitting in an omnibus beside Miss Mortimer’s man. Altogether I was sadly discomfited and beaten. The Miss Mortimers had got the better of me at every hand; and I was entirely humiliated and cast down by this last blow of all.

The interval was quite tedious and oppressive till we arrived in Chester. Seeing me look at another house unconsciously as we passed, the man, most kindly and good-humouredly, I am sure, after my sudden withdrawal from the conversation, mentioned its name. “That is Dee-sands, ma’am, the mayor o’ Chester’s place. It ain’t within sight of the Dee, and there’s none of them sands near here, but they do say it’s named after a song,” said the good-natured cicerone. “Oh!” said I again, shrinking back into my corner. He looked at me rather closely after this, muttering something that sounded like “No offence!” and leaned back also, a little affronted. It did not occur to me that I was only drawing his attention to what I had said before by this sudden reserve. I took care to show no more interest in the wayside villas, and sprang out with a great sense of relief when we reached the end of our journey. Happening to glance back when I had reached our own door, I saw that the omnibus had been delayed by numerous descents from the roof, and was still standing where we had left it, and that Miss Mortimer’s man had put his head out of one of the windows, and was watching where I went to. This circumstance made me enter with great haste and trepidation. Now, above all, I had been found out; and if ever any one felt like a traitor and a spy, it was surely me, stumbling back from that unsuccessful enterprise across the threshold of Mrs. Goldsworthy’s house.

The door was opened to us too alertly to be done by anybody but Domenico; and it was Domenico accordingly, in his vast expanse of shirt sleeves. It was quite a comfort to see his beaming, unconscious face. “The time is fine,” said Domenico; “it pleases to the signora to make promenade? Ah, bravo! the piccolo signore grow like tree.”

This was in reference to baby, who crowed at him and held out his arms, and whom Domenico freely called piccolo and piccolino, at first somewhat to my indignation; but I confess the good fellow’s voice and looks, and the way baby stretched{222} out to him, out of poor Lizzie’s tired arms, was quite consolatory and refreshing to me. It is easy to get a feeling of home to a place, surely. It was only lodgings, and Domenico was a foreigner, and I had not the ghost of an early association with the little insignificant house; but I cannot tell you what a sense of ease and protection came upon me the very moment I was within the door.

Upstairs on the table lay a letter. We got so few letters that I was surprised, and took it up immediately, and with still greater surprise found it to be from Sara Cresswell, lamenting over not having found me, wondering where I could have gone, and concluding with a solemn invitation to dinner in her father’s name. “Papa is so anxious to see Mr. Langham and you,” wrote Sara, “and to talk over things. I have been obliged to obey him for once, and not to go or write out to dear godmamma till he has seen you. If you don’t come he will be so dreadfully disappointed; indeed, I am quite sure if you don’t come he will go to see you. I can’t suppose you will be able to resist such a threat as that. Send me a word, please, directly. I shall be quite wretched till I know.”

This revived all my excitement, as may be supposed; there must be something in it after all, and surely, instead of Harry going to his office to seek him, it would be much better to meet at his house, and with an evening’s leisure too; for Sara had taken care to add that nobody else was to be there. The earnestness of this invitation seemed so entirely contradictory to all that I had heard to-day, that the wildest vague suspicions of mystery began to break upon my mind. To be sure, bakers and butlers were not likely to be in the secret. Mr. Cresswell knew all about it; and here was he seeking us entirely of his own accord! Once more all my dazzled ambitious dreams came back again; I forgot my failure and sense of treachery—I was no traitor—it was only my rights that I had been thinking of; and they were not pathetic possible victims, but triumphant usurpers, who now had possession of the Park.{223}

Chapter XII.

I HAD managed to regain my spirits entirely before Harry returned: if anything, indeed, I think this revival of all my fancies, after my disappointment and annoyance, had stimulated me more than before. It was a beautiful April evening, quite warm and summer-like, and there had just been such a sunset, visible out of the front windows, as would have gone far at any time to reconcile me to things in general. I was sitting in the little drawing-room alone, with baby Harry in my lap, much delighted to find that he could stand by my side for half a minute all by himself, and rewarding him with kisses for the exhibition of that accomplishment. I was tired after my long walk, and felt it delicious rest to lean back in that chair and watch the light gradually fading out of the sky, free to think my own thoughts, yet always with the sweet accompaniment of baby’s inarticulate little syllables, and touches of his soft small fingers. I remember that moment like a moment detached out of my life. My heart had rebounded higher out of its despondency. Who could tell what a bright future that might be on the very brink of which we trembled? And I, whom Harry had married so foolishly, it was I who was to bring this wealth to my husband and my child. It was pleasant thinking in that stir of hope, in that calm of evening, sitting listening for Harry’s step on the stair. The light grew less and less in the two front windows, and the open door of communication between the two rooms brought in a long line of grey luminous sky from the east into my twilight picture. And I had so much to tell Harry. Ah, there at last was his foot upon the stair!

He came in, not to the room in which I was, but to the other, and gave a glance round to see if I was there; then, not seeing me, instead of calling out for “Milly darling,” as he always did, Harry threw his cap on the table, and dropped heavily into a chair, with a long sigh—a strange sigh, half relieved, half impatient—the sigh of something on his mind. I can see the half-open door, the long gleam of the eastern window, the scarcely visible figure dropped into that chair—I{224} can see them all as clearly as at that moment. I stumbled up unawares, gathered baby into my arms I cannot tell how, and was at his side in a moment. My own voice sounded foreign to my ears as I cried out, “Harry, what is it? tell me!” Nothing else would come from my lips.

He rose too—the attitude of rest was not possible at such a time; he came and held the child and me close to him, making me lean on him. “It is nothing more than we expected,” he said, “Milly darling. It is only to have a heart—you are a soldier’s wife.”

I knew without any more words. I stood within his arm, silent, desperate, holding my dear frightened baby tight, too tight. Ah, God help us! In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, as the Bible says, out of the happiest flutter of hope into that cold, desperate, hopeless darkness. I could have fancied I was standing on a battlefield, with the cold, cold wind blowing over us. I made no outcry or appeal; my heart only leaped with a start of agony at the worst, at the last conclusion. We were not within his sheltering arm—he young, and strong, and safe—but looking for him—looking for him on that black, dead battlefield!

I don’t think it was the cry of the child, whom he took softly out of my straining arms, but Harry’s compassion that roused me. I cried out sharply, “Don’t pity me, Harry; I’ll bear it.” It was all I could say. I went out of his arm with agitated, hurried step, and shut out that cruel clear sky looking down upon the battlefield I saw. I did not think nor notice that this unseasonable action threw us into perfect darkness. It was a kind of physical relief to me to do something with my hands, to ring some common sound into my ears. At this moment Lizzie came into the room, carrying lights. As I lifted my confused eyes to them, what a ghastly change had passed on this room—all so cold, dark, miserable; the furniture thrust about out of its place; the fireplace dark, and Harry standing there, with the child in his arms and his cap thrown on the table, as if this very moment he was going away. He was in uniform too, and the light caught in the glitter of his sword. Was there to be no interval? My head swam round. My heart seemed to stop beating. The misery of imagination drove me half frantic—as if the present real misery had not been enough.

After a while we sat together once more as usual, he trying to bring me to talk about it and receive it like a common event. “It is what we have looked forward to for months,” said{225} Harry; “it should not be strange to you now. Think how you looked for it, Milly darling, long ago.”

“Yes,” said I. Was it likely I could talk? I only rocked myself backward and forward in my chair.

“You said God would give you strength when the hour came: the hour has come, Milly. You are a soldier’s wife!” he said.

“Yes, yes!” and then I burst into an attempt to tell him what I had been doing—if I must talk let me talk of something else than this—and broke down, and fell, God help me! to crying and sobbing like a child; which was how the good Lord gave me the power of bearing what He had sent. I got better after that; I heard and listened to it all, every detail, when they would have to go, where they would sail from,—everything. And then I grew to see by degrees that Harry, but for me, was not sorry to be sent to the war; that his eye was brightening, his head raised erect. Oh me! he was a soldier; and I—I was only a foolish creature that could not follow him or be with him, that could not come between him and those bullets, that could only stay at home and pray.

But when he came and stroked my hair down with his hand, and soothed me like a child, and bent over me with such compassion in his face—sorry for me, full of pity in his affectionate tender heart for the poor girl he was leaving behind—that was more than I could bear. With a dreadful pang I thought it was his widow he saw, all lonely and desolate, with no one to comfort her; and I, his wife, thrust him away, and defied that dreadful killing thought. No! I might leap at the worst, because I could not help my hurrying, blind imagination; but he should not, no one else should—I was resolute of that. So we talked of all the things that were needful for his preparation; and he spoke of expense and economy, and I laughed and scorned his talk. Economy! expense! Perhaps I did not know, could not think where it was to come from; but where careless money can get everything, do you think careful love would fall far short? I took courage to laugh at his words.

And then I told him all my day’s trials, and that invitation for the next day, which, even after what had happened, we must still accept. We did not have baby downstairs again that night—I dared not—courage will go so far, but not further. I went upstairs to put him into his little bed, and was glad, God help me! to be out of Harry’s sight for half an hour. But still{226} I was not free; Lizzie was about me, gliding here and there with her inquisitive sharp eyes—sharp eyes all the sharper for tears, praying and threatening me with her looks. Nobody would believe in my courage. They thought I should break down and die. Oh me! if one could die when one pleased, one might sometimes make short work of it; God does not give us that coward’s refuge. When I was all alone in my own room, I took an old regimental sash of Harry’s and bound it round me tight. I cannot tell why I did it; I think it was in my fancy somehow to bind up my heart, that it should neither yield nor fail.{227}



Chapter I.

SOME weeks of quietness passed over us after these dreadful half-revelations which really disclosed nothing. I will not attempt to give you any explanation of my state of mind; I don’t think I could if I tried. I had ceased to think of insanity in respect to my sister Sarah; she was not insane—no such thing. That scrap of conversation I had overheard in her dressing-room overturned all my delusions. Some real thing, some real person, had power to drive her half mad with anxiety and fear. What she could be anxious about—what she could be afraid of—she who had lived in the deadest peace at home for nearly five-and-twenty years—was to me an inscrutable mystery. But that this Italian stranger was no stranger—that his name was given him after the name of my father—that love, supposed by Carson to be love in the heart, and admitted by Sarah to be love for the estate, had suggested that name—were facts not to be doubted. I need not say anything about the long trains of agitated and confused thinking into which these discoveries betrayed me. They ended in nothing—they could not end in anything. But for a kind of determination I had, to keep up stedfastly till some light came, and see the end of it, I don’t doubt they would have made me ill. But I kept well in spite of them. Either our bodies are not so sensitive as they are said to be, or I am a very stupid person, which{228} I wouldn’t deny if I was taxed with it; for certainly many things that worry other people don’t trouble me very much. However, let the reason be what it might, I kept up. I could not take any comfort, as Sarah did, in knowing this young man had gone away. I can’t tell how she could have blinded herself, poor soul. I knew he would come back. She did not seem to think so; yet surely she knew all about it far better than I did. What a strange blank, unexplainable mystery it was! Judging by appearances, the young man could not be much more than born when she returned home. Yet she knew him. Incomprehensible, wild, mad idea, of which, even after all I had heard, my reason denied the possibility! She knew him! and what or who, except herself, could explain it?

The only conclusion I could come to in all my pondering was one that had glanced into my mind before, that my father had married abroad and had a son, whom Sarah had somehow stormed or threatened him into disowning. But then my father was—I grieve to say it, but one must tell the truth—a man who considered his own will and pleasure much more than anything else in the world; and I don’t think it would have broken his heart to have turned us out of our heiress-honours, especially when we grew old and did not marry. And to have left a male heir behind him! It was a very unlikely story, to be sure; but certainly Sarah and he were never friends after their return. They avoided each other, though they lived under the same roof. They treated each other with a kind of ceremonious politeness, more like mutual dislike than love. Dear, dear, to think in a quiet English family how such a dark secret could rise and grow! I set to hunting up all my father’s letters, not those he had written to me at home, for he never wrote except when he was obliged, but his own letters which he had left behind him. I could find nothing there that threw the slightest light upon the mystery. And then, if he was my father’s son, what could the young Italian mean by seeking after this fabulous lady? What had the Countess Sermoneta to do with it? On the whole, anybody will see that I ended my investigations and reasonings just where I began them. I knew nothing about it—I could discover nothing. I had only to wait for the storm that was returning—that must return. And if—oh, dear, to think of such a thing!—if it was the miserable wealth we had, that prompted Sarah to set her face against this stranger—if it were to keep possession of the estate from him who was its lawful owner, thank Heaven! we were co-heiresses. She thought she could do as she pleased with the Park, and I dare{229} say, in right and lawful things, I might have yielded to her; but I hope Millicent Mortimer was never the woman to keep what did not belong to her. If he had a title to the estate—Heaven knows how he could—I gave up trying to imagine;—but if he had, without either resistance or struggle he should have my share.

I really could not tell how much time had passed from that day when Sara Cresswell left us. It was near the end of April, so I suppose it must have been about two months after, when the accident I am going to tell happened. One afternoon when I was in the shrubbery I saw a young lady coming up towards the gate, a young creature, pretty and fair-complexioned, not tall, but very compact and orderly in her looks, with the air of being a handy, cheerful little woman, and good for most things she required to do. That was how she struck me, at all events. I dare say many people would have said she was just a very pretty girl, evidently sobered down by an early marriage, for she had an odd nursemaid by her side, carrying a beautiful baby. This stranger caught her attention very much as I watched her through the tall evergreen bushes. There was no mystery about her, certainly. I took a liking for her all of a sudden. Somehow it flashed into my mind that if I had ever been so young and as happy I might have been just such a young woman myself. I don’t mean so pretty, but the same kind of creature. She was not rich, it was clear, for the nursemaid was not much more than a child, an odd, awkward-looking girl; and though the young mother herself was sufficiently well-dressed, her things had that indescribable home-made look which one always recognises. She was a little heated with walking, and had some very grave wrinkles of care, thoughtfulness, and even anxiety, upon her pretty smooth forehead. I saw her aiming straight at the door of the lodge, and hastened out to warn her off. She was certainly a stranger, and could never know that the hooping-cough was in the house. She took my warning very oddly, looked at me with great curiosity and with tears—I am sure I saw them coming into her eyes—and then, with some half-explanation about wishing to see the Park, hurried away after her lovely little boy. I don’t know how long I stood, like a fool, looking after them, with a great desire to call her back and ask her in to see the house. Very likely she had come out from Chester to give her baby a country walk. Pretty young soul! I had no more doubt she was a good little wife than that she was a pretty creature, and very young to be that child’s mother. I daresay she was tired and{230} would have been much the better for a rest. But while I stood thinking of it, of course she was gone far out of the range of my voice. As for running after her, that was out of the question at my age; and perhaps, after all, it was as well not to bring that lovely baby near the lodge. Mary might have rushed out, and the mischief might have been done in a moment. As for hooping-cough itself, when children have good constitutions, I can’t say it is a thing I am very timid about; but it goes very hard with infants, and one could never excuse one’s-self for putting such a child in peril. So I went back to the house, though rather slowly. I can’t tell how it was, I am sure,—but I felt just as if I had missed a visit from a friend whom it would have been a great comfort to see.

I might have forgotten this little incident altogether, but for something that happened afterwards. Ellis had to go into Chester that day—indeed, he had just left a few minutes before my pretty young stranger came up. When Ellis came back he took an opportunity of speaking privately to me—indeed, he asked me to step aside into the hall for a minute. How he found out that there was any uneasiness in my mind, or that any doubt about our right to the estate had ever occurred to me, I cannot tell; there are few things more wonderful than the kind of instinct by which servants divine the storms which may be only brooding about a house. Ellis looked very grave and important; but as he always does so, I was noways alarmed.

“There was a young lady, ma’am,” said Ellis, “rode in the omnibus along with me this afternoon; well, not perhaps what you might call a real lady neither; leastways I don’t know—her looks was all in her favour; but ladies, as you know, ma’am, don’t go riding in an omnibus with bits of nursegirls and babies. But I don’t say she was one of your common sort.”

“Why, it must have been that pretty young creature,” said I.

“Well, ma’am,” said Ellis, actually with a little shame-facedness, “if you ask me my opinion, she was a pooty young creature, and so was the baby. But it ain’t what she looked, Miss Milly; it’s what she said. She asked as anxious as could be after the family at the Park.”

“Did she know anything of us?” said I, quite delighted. “I wonder who she is; she quite took my heart.”

“Not if you’d have heard her speak, ma’am,” said Ellis. “She asked, kind of curious like, how you came to succeed to{231} the estate, and whether there wasn’t no gap in the line, and if none o’ the family were ever passed over, and a deal of such questions. I told her it was Eden Hall she was thinking on, but she wasn’t satisfied. She said wasn’t there another claimant to the estate, and was I quite sure you was the right people and hadn’t passed over nobody? But the strangest thing of all was, as soon as I let out by accident I belonged to the Park, it was all over in a twinkling. Afore you could know where you was, from asking her questions and looking as anxious as you please, and her little veil up over her bonnet, and her face turned to you like a child—in a moment, ma’am, it was dead shut up and drawn back, and the veil down and face as if it didn’t see the place you was. I said to myself, ‘There’s summut in this,’ as soon as ever I seed the way she took me belonging to the Park; and, to be sure, all the way not another word. Seeing things like that, I made bold to look after her when she went out; and if you might chance to have any curiosity, Miss Milly, here’s a note of the address.”

“But what should I have any curiosity about?” said I, agitated and surprised, taking the paper from him eagerly enough, yet quite at a loss to account for any interest I could have in his adventure. Ah! had it happened six months ago, how I should have laughed at Ellis! but it could not have happened six months ago. Ellis himself would have taken no notice whatever of such questions then.

“Ma’am,” said Ellis, “the quality has their own ways; if I don’t know that, who should? I dare say it ain’t nothink to you; but it’s curious to have parties asking about the Park, as if we was a family as had romances; and being a pooty young creature, you see, Miss Milly, I thought it might be possible as you’d like to know.”

“Very well, thank you, Ellis. I know you’re always careful about the interests of the family,” said I.

“I’ve been at the Park fifty year,” said Ellis, with his best butler’s bow. I gave him a nod, and went away to the library a great deal more disturbed than I would let him perceive, but I don’t undertake to say that he didn’t see it all the same. Here was just the very fuel to set my smouldering impatience into a blaze. A sudden impulse of doing something seized upon me like a kind of inspiration. Here was a new actor in the strange bewildering drama. Who was she? Could she be Luigi’s wife coming to aid him? As the thought struck me I trembled with impatience, standing at the window where it was too dark to read that address. I must wait for{232} the morning, but certainly there was light out of darkness. However foolish it might be, I could bear it no longer. Here was a clue to guide my steps, and whether right or wrong, to-morrow I should plunge into the mystery. The idea took possession of me beyond all power of resistance. I walked about the library in the dark, quite excited and tremulous. The wind had risen, and the night was rather stormy, but I could not go into the comfort and light of that great drawing-room where Sarah sat knitting. To-morrow, perhaps, I should know the secret of her death in life.{233}

Chapter II.

I GOT very little rest that night, and was up almost by break of day the next morning. In the height of my excitement and anxiety, I felt more comfort in my mind than I had done for a long time. Sitting waiting is dreadful work, but I felt myself again when there appeared anything to do. I would not allow myself to suppose that it would end in nothing. Such inquiries could not possibly be made without a motive. I was so restless that I scarcely could remain quietly at home for an hour or two after breakfast which, out of regard for appearances, I was obliged to sacrifice; but for the same reason I made up my mind not to take the carriage, but to walk to the point where the omnibus passed, and take my chance of finding a seat in it as other people did. I went out accordingly about eleven o’clock, and left a message for Sarah that I was going to make some calls, and that she was not to wait dinner for me, as I should probably lunch somewhere at a friend’s house. I saw Ellis look out after me from the hall window, with a kind of solemn grin on his face. Ellis was not to be deceived; he knew where I was going as well as I did myself.

As I had intended, I got into the omnibus when it passed, to the great amazement and dismay of both guard and driver, who knew me well enough. I thought to myself, after I was in it, that it was perhaps rather a foolish thing to do. If any talk got abroad about our family, and if the strangers, male and female, kept making strange inquiries, and I was seen driving—no, that is not the word—riding in an omnibus, what would people think but that some extraordinary downfall had happened at the Park? There were only some countrywomen in the coach, who stared at me a little, but were too busy with their own affairs to mind me much. Fortunately there was no one there from our own village. It was a very long drive to Chester, going in the omnibus; and being unaccustomed to it, and never on the outlook for jolts, I felt it a good deal, I{234} confess, besides being just the least thing in the world in a false position. Not that I minded being seen in the omnibus, but because the guard knew me, and was troublesomely respectful, and directed the attention of the other passengers towards me. Great people, when they pretend to travel incognito, must find it a great bore, I should fancy. Of course somebody always betrays them, and it must be a great deal easier to bear what you can’t help bearing when there is no mystery about it, than when every blockhead thinks himself in your secret, and bound to keep up the joke with you.

At last we came to the street, and I got down. It was near the railway station, and so all sorts of traffic poured past the place; shabby hackney cabs, omnibuses from the Chester hotels, vans of goods, all the miscellaneous stuff that pours into railway stations. The houses were a little back from the road, to be sure, with little “front gardens,” as the people call them. I walked past three or four times before I had screwed myself up to the point of going in. The thing that dissipated all my feelings of embarrassment in a moment, and brought me back to the eagerness and excitement with which I set out from home, was the sudden appearance of Mr. Luigi’s servant, the large, fat, good-humoured Italian, whom I have before mentioned, at the door of one of the houses. The sight of him flushed me at once into determination. I turned immediately to the house where he stood, and of course it was the house, the number which Ellis had written down on his paper; there could be no doubts on the subject now.

“I wish to see your mistress,” said I, going up to the man, too breathless and eager to waste any words.

He looked at me with good-humoured scrutiny, repeating “Meestress” with a puzzled tone; at last a kind of gay, half-flattered confusion came over his good-humoured face, he put his hand on his heart, made a deprecatory, remonstrating bow, and burst into some laughing mixture of Italian and English, equally unintelligible. The fellow actually supposed I meant his sweetheart, or pretended to suppose so. I became very angry. He did not look impertinent either; but you may fancy how one would feel, to be supposed capable of such a piece of levity at such a time. And a person of my condition, too! Happily, at this moment the nurse-girl whom I had seen with my pretty young stranger suddenly made her appearance with the baby in her arms. I appealed to her, and though she stared and made answer in words not much more intelligible to me than her fellow-servant’s, she showed me{235} upstairs. She was going out with the beautiful baby, but one way and another I was so worried and uncomfortable, and felt so strongly the existence of those plots against us which I was now going to clear up, that I took no notice of the child. I said nothing at all but that I wanted to see her mistress, and walked into the little drawing room without thinking I might be going into the young stranger’s presence, possibly into the presence of both husband and wife. However, the moment I had entered I saw her; there she was. In my heat and annoyance I went up to her instantly.

“Young lady,” said I, “you were in the neighbourhood of my house yesterday; you were in our village; I myself saw you approaching the Park. You put some very strange questions to my servant. You must know how harassed and disturbed I have been by inquiries I don’t know the meaning of. What is it all about? What claim has your husband upon the Mortimers? Who is he? What does he want with us?”

I said this without pausing to take breath, for my encounter with the servant, I confess, had irritated me. Now, when I had said my say and come to myself, I looked at her and felt a little shocked. She was certainly changed since yesterday; but before I had time even to make a mental comment on this change, I was entirely confounded by the entrance of a new and unsuspected actor on the scene; her husband! evidently her husband; but as unlike Mr. Luigi as one handsome young man could be unlike another,—a bright, open-faced unmistakable Englishman, a young soldier. The sight of him struck me aghast. What new complication was this?

“If there’s going to be any fighting, that’s my trade,” said the new-comer. “We’ll change places, Milly darling. Madam, my wife has a great many things to occupy her just now; let me answer for her, if that is possible. I think I know what she has been about.”

Saying which, he wheeled the one easy chair in the room towards me, and invited me to sit down. I sat down with the feeling of having somehow deceived myself strangely and made a huge mistake. I could not make it out. Mr. Luigi’s servant was below, and this was certainly the young woman whom I had arrested on her way to the Park, and who had asked questions of Ellis in the omnibus. But who was this handsome young soldier? What had he to do with it? A cold tremble came over me that it was what the newspapers call a mistaken identity, and that somehow I had stumbled in,{236} after the rudest and most unauthorized fashion, into the privacy of two innocent young creatures who knew nothing about the Park.

“Pardon me if I am wrong,” I said with a gasp; “I fear I must be wrong, only let me ask one question. Did you speak to a man in the omnibus yesterday about the Mortimers of the Park? or was it not you? I am sure I shall never forgive myself if I have made such a foolish mistake.”

“But it is no mistake,” said the young wife, who had remained in the room, standing very near the half-opened door into the tiny apartment behind. Poor young soul! she was certainly changed in those twenty-four hours. I could scarcely resist an impulse that came upon me, to go up and take her in my arms, and ask the dear young creature what it was that ailed her. Depend upon it, whatever she might have asked about the Mortimers, that face meant no harm. I looked at her so closely, I was so much attracted by her, that I scarcely noticed, till she repeated it, what she said.

“It is no mistake,” she said, growing firmer; “I did ask questions. I am sure you are Miss Mortimer—we will tell you how it was. Harry, you will tell Miss Mortimer all about it. I am a little—a little stupid to-day. I’ll go and fetch the books if you will tell Miss Mortimer how it was.”

She went away quite simply and quietly. He stood looking after her with a compassionate, tender look, that went to my heart. He did not speak for a moment, and then he said, with a sigh, something that had nothing to do with my mystery. “We got marching orders for the Crimea yesterday,” said the dear simple-hearted young fellow, with the tears coming into his honest eyes. “It is very hard upon my poor Milly;” and he broke off with another sigh.

If the two had come to me together the next moment, and disclosed a plan to turn us out of our estate or pull the house down over our heads, I could have hugged them in my arms all the same. God bless the dear children! whatever they had to tell, there was but one thing in their thoughts, and that was the parting that was coming. If I had been the hardest heart in the world, that spontaneous confidence must have melted me. As it was, I could hardly help crying over them in their anguish and happiness.{237} People are happy that have such anguishes. I could hardly help exclaiming out aloud, “I’ll take care of her!” and yet dear! to think of human short-sightedness! Had not I come all this way to find them out?

She came back again a minute after, with some old books in her arms.

“Have you told Miss Mortimer, Harry?” she asked, pausing with a little surprise to hear no conversation going on between us, and to see him leaning against the mantelshelf just as she had left him, with his hand over his eyes. Then she gave him a quick, affectionate, indignant glance—I might say petulant—and came up in her energetic way to the table, where she put down the books. “I will tell you, Miss Mortimer,” said the brave little woman. “We do not know very much ourselves, but perhaps when you hear our story you can make it plain better than we can. We found it out only by chance.”

“My dear,” said I, “do not call me Miss Mortimer; my eldest sister is Miss Mortimer. I am called Miss Milly; Millicent Mortimer is my name.”

Here the young man broke in suddenly. “Her name was Millicent Mortimer too,” he cried. “Milly!—that is her name—I beg your pardon, Miss Mortimer; I think there is no name in the world equal to it. She’s Milly, named so at her father’s desire. Tell me, is she nearly related to you?”

I was so astonished I rose up to my feet and stared at them both. To be sure, I had heard him call her Milly; but my thoughts had been so entirely drawn astray by Mr. Luigi, that I never thought of anything else. I stood perfectly thunderstruck, staring at them. “What are you telling me?” I cried. Really my mind was not in a condition to take in anything that might be said to me. She put the old books towards me one by one. I opened them, not knowing what I did. “Sarah Mortimer, the Park, 1810.” Heaven bless us! Sarah’s hand, no doubt about it; but who in the world was she?

“Child, take pity on me!” I cried; “with one thing and another I am driven out of my wits. Tell me, for heaven’s sake, who was your father? Are you that Luigi’s sister? Who are you? Where did you come from? God help us! I don’t know what to think, or where to turn. Your father, who was he? What do you know about him? Were you born in Italy too? What is the truth of this wild, dreadful{238} mystery? Sarah may know about it perhaps, but I know nothing, nothing! If you would not have me go out of my senses, child, tell me who you are, and who your father was.”

They both gazed at me astonished. “She is Millicent Mortimer,” said her young husband, “the child of Richard Mortimer and Maria Connor; she was born in Ireland. Milly! Milly! the old lady is going to faint.”

For I sank dead down in my chair, as was natural. I put my hands over my face. I fell a-crying and sobbing in that wonderful, blessed relief. If my worst suspicions had come true, I could have stood up and faced it. But my strength went from me in this delicious, unspeakable comfort. Richard Mortimer’s children! The heirs we were looking for! Oh dear! to think I could ever be so distrustful of the good Lord! This was what all the mystery had come to! I sat crying like a fool in my chair, the two looking on at me, thinking me crazy most likely—most likely wondering, in their innocent grieved hearts, at the old woman crying for nothing. How could they tell what a mountain-load of trouble they had taken off my head?

“My dear,” cried I, when I could control myself enough, “if you are Richard Mortimer’s daughter you’re the nearest relation we have. You were to have been advertised for before now—we’ve been seeking you, or trying to seek you, everywhere. I knew there must be something made my heart warm to you so. My dear, we’re the last of the old race; there’s nobody but Richard Mortimer’s children to carry on the name. God help us! I am a silly old woman. I had taken dreadful fears into my head. Why didn’t you come and say it plain out, and turn all my anxiety and troubles into joy? Ah Milly, dear Milly Mortimer!—I could think you were my own child somehow—come and let me kiss you. I am not so weak as this usually, but I’m quite overcome to-day. Come here, child, and let me look at you. It’s pleasant to think there’s a young Mortimer in the world again.”

I was so much engaged with my own feelings, that I did not notice how much the young people were taking it. When I did come to myself a little, they were standing rather irresolute, that pretty young Milly Mortimer looking at me in a kind of longing, reluctant way, either as if she could not take me at my word, or had something on her mind. As for her husband, he was looking at me too, but with a full eager look, which I understood in a moment; his lip trembling and swelling out a{239} little, his eyes full, his whole face telling its story. When he caught my eye he turned his look upon her, and then back to me again. Do you think I did not understand him? He said, “You will take care of my Milly?” clearer than he could have said it in a thousand words; and if my eyes were slow to answer him, you may be sure it was no fault of will or heart. Seeing she was shy to come to me, and recovering myself, I went to the new Milly and kissed her. I can’t tell what a pleasure I took in looking at her. She belonged to me—she was of our very own blood, come from the same old forefathers. I thought nothing strange that I loved her in a moment. It was not love at first sight, it was natural affection. That makes a vast difference. Even Sara Cresswell was not like a child of our own family. To think of another Milly Mortimer, pretty, and happy, and young! such a Milly as I might have been perhaps, but never was. I felt very happy in this child of my family. It was half as good as having a child of one’s own.

Then they showed me some other books with poor Richard Mortimer’s name in them, and his drawing of the Park, and Sarah getting on her horse. Poor fellow! but I rather fear he could not have been any great things of a man. I felt quite easy and light at my heart; nothing seemed to frighten me. And the two young people even, in the little excitement, forgot their own trouble, which was a comfort to me.

“But all this time, my dear,” said I, at length, “you have said nothing about your brother. How did he get to be Italian,—and what did he mean by asking about that lady—and why not come at once to the Park and say out who he was?”

“My brother?” said the young wife, faltering; and gave a wondering look at me, and then turned round, with a habit she seemed to have, to consult her husband with her eyes; “my brother? I am afraid you have not understood. Harry is——”

“I know what Harry is,” cried I; “don’t tell me about him. I mean your brother—your brother. Why, dear, dear child, don’t you understand? I met this man at the door of this very house—Mr. Luigi, you know as they call him; of course he must belong to you.”

“Indeed,” said the new Milly, with very grave, concerned looks, “I never spoke to him but once in my life; we don’t know anything about him. I never had any brother; there were none but me.”{240}

I don’t think I said anything at all in answer. I said nothing, so far as I know, for a long time after. I sat stupified, feeling my burden all the heavier because I had deluded myself into laying it off a little. Oh me! we had found the heirs that Sarah had thought so much about; but the cloud had not dissolved in this pleasant sunshine. Out of my extraordinary sense of relief, I fell into darker despondency than ever. He was not Milly Mortimer’s brother, nor anybody belonging to her. Who could he be?{241}

Chapter III.

I DON’T know very well how I got to Mr. Cresswell’s house. I did manage to get there somehow. I went listlessly through the old fashioned streets I knew so well, and turned down upon that serious old house with its brick front and rows of windows all covered with Venetian blinds. It met the morning sun full, and that was why the blinds were down; but it had a dismal effect upon me, as anything else would have had at that moment. I know how the rooms look inside when the blinds are down; it throws a chill into one’s heart that has known them put down for sadder reasons. I went into the house in the same listless way, like a person in a dream. Somehow I could not take any comfort in those dear young creatures I had just found out. Mr. Luigi, whom I had not found out, returned upon me like a nightmare. Was there no possible way in which this mystery could be discovered? What if I sought an interview with himself and put it to him fairly to tell me who he was? I went into Bob Cresswell’s drawing-room, where the windows were open and the sunshine slanting in through the Venetian blinds. It was rather dark, but a green pleasant darkness, the wind stirring the curtains, and now and then knocking the wood of the blinds softly against the woodwork of the window; a cheerful kind of gloom. Sara’s knick-knacks lay scattered about everywhere on the tables, and there were cushions, and ottomans, and screens, and fantastic pieces of ornamental work about, enough to have persuaded a stranger that Sara was the most industrious person in the world. The creature bought them all, you know, at fancy fairs and such absurd places. I am not sure that she ever took a needle in her fingers; but she said herself she had not the slightest intention of saving her poor papa’s money; and indeed it was very true.

I was thankful to sit down by myself a little in the silence. Sara was out, it appeared, and I threw myself into an easy-chair, and actually felt the quietness and green-twilight look of the room, with just a touch of sunshine here and there upon the carpet near the windows, a comfort to me. Once again,{242} as you may suppose, I thought it all over; but into the confused crowd of my own thoughts, where Sarah, Carson, Mr. Luigi, his fat servant, my new-found Milly Mortimer, and all her belongings, kept swaying in and out and round about each other, there came gleams of the other people suggested by this room;—Mr. Cresswell trying to make some light out of the confusion, Sara darting about, a mischievous, bewildering little sprite, and even, by some strange incoherency of my imagination, Sara’s poor pretty young mother, dead seventeen years ago, flickering about it, with her melancholy young eyes. Poor sweet lonely creature! I remember her a bride in that very room, with Bob Cresswell who might almost have been her father, very fond, but not knowing a bit what to make of her; and then lying helpless on the sofa, and then fading away out of sight, and the place that had known her knowing her no more. Ah me! I wonder whether that is not the best way of getting an end put to all one’s riddles. If Sarah and I had died girls, we should have been girls for ever,—pleasant shadows always belonging to the old house. Now it would be different, very different. When we were gone, what story might be told about us? “In their time something dreadful occurred about the succession, proving that they had never any right to the estate;” or “the great lawsuit began between the heirs of a younger branch and a supposed son of Squire Lewis.” Dear! dear! Who could this young man be? and now here was our real relation, our pretty Milly Mortimer—our true heir, if we were the true heirs of the estate. Dare I let her believe herself the heir of the Park with this mystery hanging over all our heads? Poor dear child, she was thinking more about her husband’s marching orders than if a hundred Parks had been in her power. Trouble there, trouble here; everywhere trouble of one sort or another. I declare I felt very tired of it all, sitting in that cool shady drawing-room. I could turn nowhere without finding some aggravation. This is how life serves us, though it seems such a great thing to keep in life.

“But, godmamma, how in all the world did you come here?” cried Sara Cresswell, springing upon me suddenly, before I had seen her come in, like a kitten as she was; “you who never come to Chester but in great state, to call upon people! It’s only one o’clock, and there’s no carriage about the streets, and you’ve got your old brown dress on. How did you get here?”

“Never mind, child,” said I, a little sharply; “you take{243} away my breath. Suppose you get me some lunch, and don’t ask any questions. I am going to stay all day, perhaps all night,” I said with a little desperation; “perhaps it’s the best thing I could do.”

“Godmamma, something has happened!” cried Sara; and she came and knelt down on the stool at my feet, looking up in my face, with cheeks all crimsoned over, and eyes sparkling brighter than I had ever seen them. It was not anxiety but positive expectation that flushed the child’s face. I could not help thrusting her away from me with my hand, in the fulness of my heart.

“Child!” cried I, “you are glad! you think something has happened to us, and it flushes you with pleasure. I did not expect as much from you!”

Sara stumbled up to her feet, confused and affronted. She stood a moment irresolute, not sure, apparently, how to take it, or whether to show me to the full extent how angry and annoyed she was. However, I suppose she remembered that we were in her father’s house, and that I was her guest after a fashion; for she stammered some kind of apology. “You took me into your confidence before, and naturally I wanted to know,” cried the child, with half-subdued fury. She had never been taught how to manage her temper, and she could not do it when she tried.

“You,” said I, “we are your godmothers, Sara, and have loved you all your life; but you want to know, just as if it were a story in a novel—though, for all you can tell, it may be something that involves our fortune, or our good name, or our life.”

Now this was very foolish of me, and I confess it. It was not anger at Sara that made me say it—nothing of the sort. But I had come through a good deal, and my mind was so full that I could bear no more. It burst from me like something I could not retain, and after that I am ashamed to confess, I cried. It was merely the excitement and agitation of the day, so unusual to me, and coming after such a long strain of silent excitement as I had already come through.

Sara stood before me confounded. She was quite unprepared for anything of this kind. She kept standing by me in a bewildered way, too much puzzled to say anything. At length she knelt down on the footstool and pressed my hand upon her little soft mouth. “Something dreadful has happened, godmamma?” said Sara, looking up at me wistfully. The poor child was really alarmed and full of anxiety now.{244}

“No, no,” said I, “nothing has happened at all. I am only too nervous and alarmed and unhappy to bear speaking to. I am not unhappy either. Sara, child, can’t you leave me by myself a little and order luncheon? I’ll tell you all about it then.”

Sara got up immediately to do what I told her; but before she left me stole her arm round my neck and kissed me. “I have got a secret to tell you, godmamma; you’ll be so glad when you know,” whispered the creature in my ear. Glad! I suppose it would be some of her love affairs,—some deluded young man she was going to marry, perhaps. Well! so I might have been glad, in a manner, if it were a suitable match, and she had taken any other time to tell me; but you may fancy how much happiness I had to spare for anybody now.

It may be imagined that my appetite was not very great in spite of my anxiety about luncheon, but I certainly was glad to have a glass of Mr. Cresswell’s nice Madeira after all my fatigue and exhaustion. Sara and I sat opposite to each other in the dining-room, where the blinds were down also, without saying much for some time. She was watching me I could see. There she sat very demure and a little anxious, in her velvet jacket, shaking her short curls, now and then, with an impatient kind of motion. I was glad to see that kitten have so much perception of the rights of hospitality; for she allowed me to take my time, and did not torture me with questions, so that I really got the good of this little interval, and was refreshed.

“I ought to be very happy instead of being so nervous and uncomfortable,” cried I at last; “for only fancy, my dear child, who I have found. Do you remember when you were at the Park hearing your godmamma Sarah speak of an heir whom she wanted your papa to advertise for? Well, what do you think, Sara? I have actually found her! for she is not an heir but an heiress. What your godmamma Sarah will say when she hears it, I can’t think; for she has never been advertised for, you know. She has turned up ‘quite promiscuous,’ as Ellis says.”

“Oh!—so you know!” said Sara, in quite a disappointed tone; “and I thought I had such a secret for you. Well, of course, since you do know, it doesn’t matter; they’re coming here to-night.”

“My dear, I know they are coming here to-night. They told me so; and your papa is to go over the whole, and make it all out how it is. Ah, dear me!” said I with a sigh, “if that were but all!”{245}

“Dear godmamma,” said Sara in her coaxing way, “are you not glad? I thought you would certainly be glad to find another Milly Mortimer; but you’ve got something on your mind.”

“Ah, yes, I have something on my mind,” said I. “Sara, child, I don’t know what to do with myself. I must see this Mr. Luigi before I go home.”

“You can’t, godmamma; he is not in Chester,” cried Sara, with a sudden blush. “As soon as he found out—the very next morning at least—he went away to fetch some things he had left behind.”

“Found out what?”

Sara put her hands together with a childish appealing motion. “Indeed, I do not know—indeed, dear godmamma, I do not know. If you think it wrong of me to have spoken to him, I am very sorry, but I can’t help it. I met him at Mrs. Langham’s, you know,—and he saw Sarah Mortimer written in her book. And the next morning he met me,—I mean I met him—we happened to meet in the street—and he told me he had found the clue he wanted, and was going to fetch some things he had put for safety in London—and I know he has not come back.”

“How do you know he has not come back?” said I.

Sara thought I was thinking of her, and the child blushed and looked uneasy; I observed as much, but I did not till long afterwards connect it with Mr. Luigi. I was too impatient to know about himself.

“Because I should have seen him,” said Sara, faltering. It did not come into my head to inquire why she was so sure she would have seen him. My thoughts were occupied about my own business. I groaned in my heart over her words. Not yet was I to discover this mystery. Not yet was I to clear my mind of the burden which surely, surely, I could not long go on bearing. It must come to an end, or me.{246}

Chapter IV.

AFTER what Sara had told me I felt in great doubt as to what I should do. Staying in Chester, even for a night, was against my habits, and might make people talk. Ellis, of course, would be very wise over it among the servants, and the chances were that it might alarm Sarah; but at the same time I could not return there in the same state of uncertainty. I could not meet her face again, and see her going on with her knitting in that dreadful inhuman way. Having once broken out of my patience, it seemed to me quite impossible to return to it. I felt as if I could only go and make a scene with Sarah, and demand to know what it was, and be met by some cruel cold denial that she understood anything about it, which would, of course,—feeling sure that she understood it all, but having no sure ground on which I could contradict her,—put me half out of my senses. On the whole, staying in Chester all night could do no harm. If Ellis talked about it, and pretended that he knew quite well what I had gone about, I dare say it was no more than he had done already, and would be very well inclined to do again. One must always pay the penalty for having faithful old servants, and, really, if my absence frightened Sarah, so much the better. She ought not to be allowed to go on placidly congratulating herself on having shut out this poor young man. If we were wronging him, what a cruel, cruel, miserable thing it was of Sarah to be glad of having balked him and driven him away! It is dreadful to say such things of one’s own only sister, but one does get driven out of patience. Think of all I had come through, and the dreadful doubt hanging over me! I had kept very quiet for a long time and said nothing to nobody; but now that I had broken out, I fear I was in rather an unchristian state of mind.

All that afternoon I kept quiet, and rested behind the green blinds in Mr. Cresswell’s half-lighted drawing-room. How Sara ever has got into the way of enduring that half light I can’t imagine; or rather I should say I don’t believe she uses this room at all, but has the back drawing-room, where the window is from which she could see down into the poor{247} curate’s rooms, and watch his wife dressing the baby, as she told me long ago. You can see the street, too from an end window in that back drawing-room; perhaps that is how she would have known if Mr. Luigi had come back, for I am pretty sure, from the glimpses I had when the doors opened, that the blinds were not down there. She received her visitors in the back drawing-room that afternoon. I heard them come and go, with their dresses rustling about, and their fresh young voices. Of course I neither heard nor listened what they were talking of; but dear, to hear how eager the creatures were in their talk! as if it were anything of any consequence. I sat with that hum now and then coming to my ears, bewildering myself with my own fancies. If I could have read a book or a paper, or given my mind to anything else, it would have been a deal better for me; but my disorder of mind, you see, had come to a crisis, and I was obliged to let it take its way.

It was not without a good deal of difficulty and embarrassment that Mr. Cresswell and I met. He was a little uncomfortable himself with the same feelings he had shown a spark of at the Park, and unduly anxious to let me see that he had lost no time in inquiring about the Langhams,—that was the name of the young people,—as soon as he heard of them, and had meant to come out to us next day and tell us the result. For my part, I was a great deal more embarrassed than he was. I could scarcely help letting him see that this new heiress was a very small part of my excitement and trouble; indeed, had no share in the trouble at all, for as much as I could give my mind to think of her, was pure pleasure; but at the same time my heart revolted from telling him my real difficulty. He, I dare say, had never once connected the young Italian, whom everybody in Chester knew something about, with us or our family; and I was so perfectly unable to say what it was I feared, that a shrewd precise man like Cresswell would have set it down at once merely as a woman’s fancy. At the same time, you know, I was quite unpractised in the art of concealing my thoughts. I betrayed to him, of course, a hundred times that I had something on my mind. I dare say he remembered from the time of our last interview that I looked to have something on my mind, and he made a great many very skilful efforts to draw it out. He talked of Sarah, with private appeals to me in the way of looks and cunning questions to open my mind about her; and, to tell the truth, it cost me a little self-denial, after we really got into conversation, not to{248} say something, and put his shrewdness on the scent. I dare say he might have worried out the secret somehow or another; but I did not commit myself. I kept my own counsel closely, to his great surprise. I could see he went away baffled when it was nearly time for dinner. And he was not at all pleased to be baffled either, or to think that I was too many for him. I felt sure now I should have to be doubly on my guard, for his pride was piqued to find it all out.

I can’t tell anybody what a comfort it was to my heart when my new Milly Mortimer came. If the two had been very bright and elate about finding themselves heirs to a great estate I might have been disgusted, glad as I was to know about them; for, to be sure, one does not like one’s heirs to be very triumphant about wealth they can only have after one’s own death. But something more than houses or lands was in that young creature’s mind. She was wonderfully steady and cheerful, but never for a moment lost out of her eyes what was going to happen to her. It was not mere sympathy, you know, that made me know so well how she was feeling, for, to be sure, I never was in her circumstances nor anything like them; it was because I was her relation, and had a natural insight into her mind. I don’t believe Sara had the least perception of it. When we came upstairs after dinner, leaving that fine young soldier, whom really I felt quite proud of, with Mr. Cresswell, this came out wonderfully, and in a way that went to my heart. Sara, who was extremely affectionate to her, set her in an easy chair and brought her a footstool, and paid her all those caressing little attentions which such kittens can be so nice about when they please. “I am so glad you have come to know my godmamma just now,” said Sara, kissing her, “because she will know to comfort you when Mr. Langham goes away.”

My Milly said nothing for a moment; she rather drew herself away from Sara’s kiss. She did not lean back, but sat upright in her chair, and put away the stool with her foot. “I am a soldier’s wife,” she said the next minute in the most unspeakable tone, with a kind of sob that did not sound, but only showed, in a silent heave of her breast. Ah, the dear child! have not soldiers’ wives a good call to be heroes too? I drew Sara away from her in a sort of passion; that velvet creature with her sympathy and her kisses, when the other was hanging on the edge of such a parting! If one could do nothing for the sweet soul, one might have the charity to leave her alone.{249}

But after a while I drew Milly into talking of herself, for I was naturally anxious to know all about her, and where she had been brought up, and how she had found out that she belonged to us. We all knew that young Langham and Mr. Cresswell were going over the papers that her husband had brought with him, and setting it all straight; but as I never had any doubt from the moment I saw those books of hers, I was much more anxious to know from Milly herself how she had spent her life. She told us with a little reserve about her Irish friends and her odd bringing up, and then how she had met with Harry. She told you all about that herself, I know, a great deal better than I could repeat it, and fuller, too, than she told us. But when she got fully into that story, she could not help forgetting herself and the present circumstances a little. Sara sat on a stool before her, with her hands clasped on her knees, devouring every word. Certainly Sara took a wonderful interest in it. I never saw her so entirely carried away by interest and sympathy. When Milly was done, the creature jumped up and defied me.

“You couldn’t blame her; you couldn’t have the heart to blame her! It was just what she ought to have done!” cried Sara, with her face in such a commotion, all shining, and blushing, and dewy with tears. I was confounded by her earnest looks. It was very interesting, certainly, but there was nothing to transport her into such a little rapture as that.

“Child, be quiet,” said I; “you are determined to do me some harm, surely. I don’t blame Milly. She thought she had nobody belonging to her, though she was mistaken there. My dear, you have one old woman belonging to you that will expect a great deal, I can tell you. I can feel somehow, as if it might have been me you were telling of, if I had ever been as pretty or as young——”

“Godmamma, such nonsense!” cried Sara; “you must have been as young once; and if you were not far prettier than godmamma Sarah, I will never believe my eyes!”

“Your godmamma Sarah was a great beauty,” said I; “but that is nothing to the purpose. If I had ever been as young and as pretty as this Milly Mortimer, I might have fallen in with a Harry too, who knows? and it might not have been any the better for you, my dear child; so it’s just as well that things are as they are. But, all the same, I can’t help thinking that it might have been my story you’re telling. There’s a great deal in a name, whatever people may say. I shall think{250} the second Milly is to go through all the things the first Milly only wondered about. I never had any life of my own to speak of. You have one already. I shall think I have got hold of that life, that always slipped through my fingers, when I see you going through with it. I shall never feel myself an odd person again.”

“Ah! but life is not happiness,” burst from my poor Milly’s lips in spite of herself; then she hastily drew up again: “I mean it is not play,” she said, after a while.

“If it were play, it would be for children; it is heavy work and sore,” cried I; “that much I know, you may be sure; but then there are words said, that one can never forget, about him that endureth to the end.”

Such words were comfort to me; but not just to that young creature in the intolerable hope and anguish she had in her heart. She was not thinking of any end; I was foolish to say it; and after all I knew more of life than she did—far more! and knew very well it did not spring on by means of heartbreaking events like the parting she was thinking of, or joyful ones like the meeting again which already she had set all her heart and life on, but crept into days and days like the slow current it had been to me. Sara, however, as was natural, was impatient of this talk. I believe she had something on her mind too.

“You do not blame your Milly, godmamma?” she cried, a little spitefully; “but I suppose you would blame any other poor girl; as if people were always to do what was told them, and like such people as they were ordered to like! You old people are often very cruel. Of course you would blame every one else in the world?”

“I should certainly blame you,” cried I, “if you should venture to think you might deceive your good father, that never denied you anything in his life. You velvet creature, what do you know about it? You never had an unkind word said to you, nor the most foolish wish in your little perverse heart denied. If you were to do such a thing, I could find it in my heart to lock you up in a garret and give you bread and water. It would not be a simple-hearted young creature with every excuse in the world for her, but a little cheat and traitor, and unnatural little deceiver. There! you are a wicked creature, but you are not so bad as that. If you said it yourself I should not believe it of you!”

But to my amazement the child stood aghast, too much dismayed, apparently, to be angry, and faltered out, “Believe{251} what?” with her cheeks suddenly growing so pale that she frightened me. The next moment she had rushed into the back drawing-room, and from thence disappeared,—for I went to look after her,—fairly flying either from herself or me. I was entirely confounded. I could not tell what to make of it. Was little Sara in a mystery too?

“If I am betraying Sara, I am very sorry,” said Milly, when I looked to her for sympathy; “but I fear, though they don’t know it themselves, that she and the Italian gentleman are thinking more of each other, perhaps, than they ought.”

She had scarcely finished speaking when Sara returned, dauntless and defiant. “I rushed away to see whether your note had gone to godmamma Sarah,” said the daring creature, actually looking into my very eyes. “A sudden dreadful thought struck me that it had been forgotten. But it is all right, godmamma; and now I think we might have some tea.”{252}

Chapter V.

THE gentlemen came upstairs looking very cheerful and friendly, so of course everything had been satisfactory in their conversation. After a little while Mr. Cresswell came to tell me all about it. He said the papers seemed all quite satisfactory, and he had no doubt Mrs. Langham was really Richard Mortimer’s daughter, the nearest, and indeed only relation, on the Mortimer side of the house, that we had in the world.

“I have no doubt about it,” said I; “but I am very glad, all the same, to have it confirmed. Now, my dear child, you know that we belong to each other. My sister and I are, on your father’s side, the only relations you have in the world.”

Milly turned round to receive the kiss I gave her, but trembled and looked as if she dared not lift her eyes to me. Somehow I believe that idea which brightened her husband, came like a cold shadow between her and me, the thought that I would take care of her when he was away. It was very unreasonable, to be sure; but, dear, dear, it was very natural! I did not quarrel with her for the impulse of her heart.

“But softly, softly, my dear lady,” said Mr. Cresswell; “the papers all seem very satisfactory, I admit; but the ladies are always jumping at conclusions. I shall have to get my Irish correspondent to go over the whole matter, and test it, step by step. Not but that I am perfectly satisfied; but nobody can tell what may happen. A suit might arise, and some of these documents might be found to have a flaw in it. We must be cautious, very cautious, in all matters of succession.”

“A suit! Why, wouldn’t Richard Mortimer, if he were alive, be heir-at-law? Who could raise a suit?” cried I.

I suppose he saw that there was some anxiety in my look which I did not express; and, to be sure, he owed me something for having thwarted and baffled him. “There is no calculating what mysterious claimant might appear,” said Mr. Cresswell, quite jauntily. “I heard somebody say, not very long ago, that all the romance now-a-days came through the hands of{253} conveyancers and attorneys. My dear lady, leave it to me; I understand my own business, never fear.”

I felt as if a perfect fever possessed me for the moment. My pulse beat loud, and my ears rang and tingled. “What mysterious claimant could there be to the Park?” I cried. I betrayed myself. He saw in a moment that this was the dread that was on my mind.

“Quite impossible to say. I know no loophole one could creep in through,” he said, with a little shrug of his shoulders and a pretended laugh. “But these things defy all probabilities. It is best to make everything safe for our young friends here.”

Now this, I confess, nettled me exceedingly; for though we had taken so much notice of his daughter, and had lived so quietly for many years, neither Sarah nor I had ever given up the pretensions of the Mortimers to be one of the first families in the county. And to hear an attorney speaking of “our young friends here,” as if they were falling heirs to some old maiden lady’s little bit of property! I was very much exasperated.

“It seems to me, Mr. Cresswell, that you make a little mistake,” said I. “Our family is not in such a position that its members could either be lost or found without attracting observation. In a different rank of life such things might happen; but the Mortimers, and all belonging to them, are too well known among English families, if I am not mistaken, to allow of any unknown connections turning up.”

Mr. Cresswell immediately saw that he had gone too far, and he muttered a kind of apology and got out of it the best way he could. I drew back my chair a little, naturally indignant. But Cresswell, whose father and his father’s father had been the confidential agents of our family, who knew very well what we had been, and what we were whenever we chose to assert ourselves,—to think of him, a Chester attorney, patronising our heirs and successors! You may imagine I had a good right to be angry, and especially as I could see he was quite pluming himself on his cleverness in finding out what was in my mind. He thought it was a whim that had taken possession of me, no doubt,—a kind of monomania. I could even see, as he thought it all quietly over by himself over his cup of tea, what a smile came upon his face.

Young Langham, however, just then contrived to gain my attention. He did it very carefully, watching his opportunities when Milly was not looking at him, or when he thought she{254} was not looking at him. “I am heartily glad to have found you out now, of all times,” said the young man. “Milly would not have gone to her relations in Ireland, and I have no relations. She will be very lonely when we are gone. Poor Milly! It is a hard life I have brought her into, and she so young.”

“You are not much older yourself,” said I; “and if you children bring such trouble on yourselves, you must be all the braver to bear it. I doubt if she’d change with Sara Cresswell at this moment, or any other unmarried young creature in the world.”

The young man looked up at me gratefully. “I can’t tell you how good she is,” he said, in his simplicity. “She never breaks down nor complains of anything. I don’t understand how she has saved and spared our little means and made them do; but she has, somehow. Now, though she’s pale with thinking of this—don’t you think she’s pale? but I forgot, you never saw her before—she has set all her mind upon my outfit, and will hear of nothing else. I wish it were true what the books say. I wish one’s young wife would content herself with thoughts of glory and honour; indeed, I wish one could do as much one’s self,” said the good young fellow, with a smile and sigh. “I fear I am only going, for instance, because I must go; and that I’ll cast many a look behind me on my Milly left alone. She’s just twenty,” he said, with an affectionate look at her which brought her eyes upon us and our conversation, and interrupted so far the confidential character of the interview between him and me.

“Say nothing about it just now,” said I, hurriedly, “it only vexes her to hear you talk of what she is to do; leave her alone, dear soul—but at the same time don’t be afraid. The very day you go I’ll fetch her to the Park. She shall be our child while you are away—and it is to the Park you shall come when you come home. But say nothing about it now. She cannot bear to think of it at present. When the worst is over she’ll breathe again. Hush! don’t let her hear us now!”

“But you know her, though you don’t know her,” said he, under his breath, with a half-wondering grateful look at me that quite restored my good-humour. I remember I nodded at him cheerfully. Know her! I should like to know who had as good a right! These young creatures can’t understand how many things an old woman knows.

Here Milly came up to us, a little jealous, thinking somehow{255} we were plotting against her. “Harry is talking to you of something?” she said, with a little hesitation in her voice.

“On the subject we both like best, just now,” said I. “But I wish you both to go with me to the Park. You can manage it, can you not? The dear baby, and the little nurse, and—but the fat Italian? Ah! he doesn’t belong to you.

“No! he was in great triumph to-night; his master has come home,” said young Langham. “He does not belong to us; but he is a devoted slave of Milly’s for all that.”

“His master came home to-night!” I repeated the words over to myself involuntarily; and then a sudden thought struck me in the feverish impulse which came with that news. “Children,” said I, with a little gasp, “it is deeply to all our interest to know who that young man is. I can never rest, nor take comfort in anything till I know. Will you try to have him with you to-morrow, and I will come and speak to him? Hush! neither the Cresswells nor anybody is to know; it concerns only us Mortimers. Will you help me to see him at your house?”

“You are trembling,” said Milly, suddenly taking hold of my hand. “Tell Harry what it is and he will do it. He is to be trusted; but it will agitate you.”

“I cannot tell Harry, for I do not know,” said I, below my breath, leaning heavily upon the arm, so firm and yet so soft, that had come to my aid. “But I will take Harry’s support and yours. It shall be in your house. Whatever is to be said shall be said before you. Thank heaven! if I do get agitated and forget myself you will remember what he says.”

“It is something that distresses you?” said the young stranger, once more looking into my face, not curious but wistful. I should have been angry had Sara Cresswell asked as much. I was glad and comforted to see Milly anxious on my account.

“I cannot tell what it is; but whatever it is, it is right that you should know all about it,” said I. “For anything I can tell you it may interfere both with your succession and ours. I can’t tell you anything about it, that is the truth! I know no more than your baby does how Mr. Luigi can have any connection with our family; but he has a connection somehow—that is all I know. To-morrow, to-morrow, please God! we’ll try to find out what it is.”

The two young people were a good deal startled by my{256} agitation; perhaps, as was natural, they were also moved by the thought of another person who might interfere with the inheritance that had just begun to dazzle their eyes; but as I leaned back in my chair, exhausted with the flutter that came over me at the very thought of questioning Mr. Luigi, my eyes fell upon Mr. Cresswell, still sipping a cup of tea, and quietly watching me over the top of his spectacles; and at the same moment Sara came in from the back drawing-room with great agitation and excitement in her face. I could see that she scarcely could restrain herself from coming to me and telling me something; but with a sudden guilty glance at her father, and a sudden unaccountable blush, she stole off into a corner, and, of all the wonderful things in the world, produced actually some work out of some fantastic ornamental work-table or other! That was certainly a new development in Sara. But I could read in her face that she had seen him too. She too had somehow poked her curls into this mystery. All around me, everybody I looked at, were moved by it, into curiosity or interest, or something deeper—I, the principal person in the business, feeling them all look at me, could only feel the more that I was going blindfold to, I could not tell what danger or precipice. Blindfold! but at least it should be straightforward. I knew that much of the to-morrow, which it made me tremble with excitement to think of; but I knew nothing more.{257}



Chapter I.

MY dear old relation whom we have found out so suddenly, and whom I am quite ashamed to have once thought to be a kind of usurper of something that belonged to me, has been too much distressed and troubled altogether about this business to have the trouble of writing it down as well; and I have so little, so strangely little, to take up my time just now. The days are somehow all blank, with nothing ever happening in them. In my mind I can always see the ship making way over the sea, with the same rush of green water, and the same low-falling, quiet sky, and no other ships in sight. It has been very quiet weather—that is a great mercy. They should be almost landed there by this time.

But that is not my business just now. My dear Aunt Milly—it is true she is only my father’s cousin, but cousin is an awkward title between people of such different age, and, according to Sara Cresswell, she is my aunt, à la mode de Bretagne, which I don’t mind adopting without any very close inquiry into its meaning—made an engagement with us to come to our house the next morning after that first day we met her. Harry came home from the Cresswells that night in raptures with Aunt Milly. It was rather hard upon me to see him so pleased. Of course I knew very well what made him so pleased. He thought he had secured a home for me. He was never tired{258} praising her in his way. I am not exactly sure whether she herself would have relished the praises he gave her, because he has a sad habit of talking slang like all the rest. But apart from any reason, he took to her, which it is a great pleasure to think of now. When we got home Mr. Luigi’s window was blazing with light just as it had done when he returned before; for Domenico seems to be quite of the opinion that candles are articles of love and welcome as well as of devotion. Harry, who had quite made acquaintance with the Italian gentleman when he was at home before, went in to see him, and I went upstairs to baby. I used to take comfort in getting by myself a little, just at that time. Ten minutes in my own room in the dark did me a great deal of good. When one takes an opportunity and gets it out of one’s heart now and then, one can go on longer and better—at least I have found it so.

Lizzie, always watchful, was very ready to let me hear that she was close at hand. The moment she heard me open my own room-door, she began to move about in the back apartment where she kept watch over baby, and I do believe it was only by dint of strong self-denial that she did not burst in upon me at once. I can’t fancy what she thought would happen if I “gave way.” It must have taken some very terrible shape to her fancy. After I had my moment of repose, I went to baby’s room. He was asleep like a little cherub in Mrs. Goldsworthy’s old wicker-work cradle, which I had trimmed with chintz for him; and Lizzie sat by the table working, but looking up at me with her sharp suspicious eyes—sidelong inquisitive looks, full of doubts of my fortitude, and anxiety for me. It was all affection, poor child. When one has affectionate creatures about one, it is impossible to be hard or shut one’s self up. I had no choice but to stop and tell Lizzie about my new friend.

“Oh, it was thon leddy was at the muckle gates, and warned us away for the kingcough,” cried Lizzie; “I minded her the very moment at the door. I was sure as could be from the first look that it was some friend.”

“Some friend,” in Lizzie’s language meant some relation. I asked in wonder, “Why?”

But Lizzie could not explain why; it was one of those unreasonable impressions which are either instinctively prophetic, or which are adopted unconsciously after the event has proved them true.

“But you were never slow where help was needed or comfort,” said Lizzie, dropping her eyes and ashamed of her own compliment; “and I kent there was somebody to be sent to{259} comfort you; and wha could it be but a friend? For naebody could take you like the way you took me.”

I suppose Lizzie’s view of things, being the simplest, had power over me. I was struck by this way of regarding it. Perhaps I had not just been thinking of what was sent. I felt as if that tight binding over my heart relaxed a little. Ah! so well as the Sender knew all about it—all my loneliness, dismay, and troubles; all my Harry’s risks and dangers; all our life beyond—inscrutable dread life which I dared not attempt to look at—and everything that was in it. I held my breath, and was silent in this wide world that opened out to me through Lizzie’s words.

“And eh, mem,” cried Lizzie, opening her eyes wide, “I was sent for down the stair.”

“Where?” cried I in astonishment.

“I was sent for down the stair,” said Lizzie, with the oddest blush and twist of her person. “Menico, he’s aye been awfu’ ill at me since I wouldna gang to the playhouse after it was a’ settled—as if I could gang to play mysel’ the very day the news came! and eh, when he came up and glowered in at the door, and Mrs. Goldsworthy beside him, and no a person but me in oor house, I was awfu’ feared. Her being English, they were like twa foreigners thegither; and how was I to ken what they were wantin’? The only comfort I had was mindin’ upon the Captain’s sword. It was aye like a protection. But a’ they said was that Mrs. Goldsworthy would stop beside baby, and I was to gang down the stair and speak to the gentleman. I thought shame to look as if I was feared—but I was awfu’ feared for a’ that.”

“And what then?”

“I had to gang,” said Lizzie, holding down her head; “he was sleeping sound, and I kent I could hear the first word of greetin’ that was in his head; I could hear in ony corner o’ the house; and Mrs. Goldsworthy gied me her word she would sit awfu’ quiet and not disturb him. Eh, mem, are ye angry? I never did it afore, and I’ll never do it again.”

“No, you must not do it again,” said I; “but who wanted you downstairs?”

“Eh, it was the Italian gentleman,” said Lizzie; “and it was a’ about the leddy that was here the day. He wanted to ken if she was wanting him; and then he wanted to hear if I kent her, and what friend she was to you; but it was mostly a’ to make certain that it wasn’t him she wanted—as if a leddy like yon was likely to have ony troke wi’ foreigners or strange men!{260} and there was aye the other blatter to Menico in their ain language—and ower again, and ower again to me, if it wasna him she asked for. And me standing close at the door listening for baby, and thinking shame to be there, and awfu’ feared you would be angry. I would like to ken what the like of him had to do wi’ leddies?—and Menico, too, that might have kent better—but there’s naebody will behave to please folk perfect in this world.”

“But this is very strange news,” said I. “What did you say, Lizzie? did you say it was Miss Mortimer, and that she was a relation of mine.”

“Eh, no me!” cried Lizzie. “Ye might think it to see me so silly, but I wasna that daft. I said it was ane on a visit to the leddy. I had nae ado with it ony mair than that, and I’m sure neither had he.”

Here Harry’s voice sounded from below, calling me, and I left Lizzie somewhat amused by her cautious and prudent answer, and not a little curious to see that the Italian was interested about the old lady as well as she about him. I found Harry quite full of the same story. Mr. Luigi had questioned him with great caution about Miss Mortimer, and of course had heard the entire story from Harry of our relationship, and how we found each other out. He had received it very quietly, without expressing any feeling at all, and had asked some very close questions about her and about the Park, and her other sister. Harry could not make him out. Of course neither of us knew the other sister. Evidently it was a mysterious business somehow. But as we knew nothing whatever about it, we soon came to an end of our speculations. The morning, perhaps, as Aunt Milly thought, would clear it all up.{261}

Chapter II.

THE morning came, and a very lovely morning it was, as bright and almost as warm as summer, one of those glimpses of real spring which come to us only by days at a time. Aunt Milly came almost before we had finished breakfast. I dare say she is accustomed to early hours; but it was evidently strong anxiety and excitement that had brought her out so soon to-day. I had told Lizzie she was coming, and Lizzie, either with some perception of the real nature of her visit, which I could not in any way account for, or with natural Scotch jealousy and reluctance to satisfy the curiosity of strangers as to our relationship, kept on the watch after she had given baby into my charge, and got her triumphantly into the house without any intervention on the part of Domenico. Aunt Milly sank into a chair, very breathless and agitated. It was some time before she could even notice little Harry. To see her so made me more and more aware how serious this business, whatever it was, must be.

“But I am too early, I suppose?” she said with a little gasp.

Harry thought it was rather too early, unless he were to tell Mr. Luigi plainly what he was wanted for, which she would not permit him to do. It was a very uncomfortable interval. She sat silent, evidently with her whole mind bent upon the approaching interview. We, neither knowing the subject of it, nor what her anxiety was, had nothing to say, and I was very glad when Harry went downstairs to find the Italian. Then Aunt Milly made a hurried communication to me when we were alone, which certainly did not explain anything, but which still she evidently felt to be taking me into her confidence.

“My dear, Sarah knows something about him,” said Aunt Milly; “somehow or other Sarah knows that he has a claim upon us. When she heard of the inquiries he was making, she was in a state of desperation—used to drive out with the carriage blinds down, poor soul, and kept watching all day long, so wretched and anxious that it would have broken{262} your heart. But how it all is, and how about this Countess, and his being named Luigi, and his claim upon the estate, and her knowing him—though, so far as I can judge, he could be no more than born when she came home—Hark! was that somebody coming upstairs?”

It was only some of the people of the house moving about. Aunt Milly gave a sigh of relief. “My dear, I’m more and more anxious since I’ve found you, to know the worst,” she said. “It is as great a mystery to you as to your baby, how he can have any connection with us. Dear, dear! to think of a quiet family, and such a family as the Mortimers, plunged all at once into some mystery! it is enough to break one’s heart;—but then, you see, Sarah was so long abroad.”

“Was she long abroad?” said I, with a little cry. All at once, and in spite of myself, my old fancy about that old Miss Mortimer, whom I imagined living in my grandfather’s house, came back to my mind. The great beauty whom my good Mrs. Saltoun had seen abroad—how strange if this should be her after all! Somehow my old imaginations had looked so true at the time, that I seemed to remember them as if they were matters of fact and not of fancy. I looked up, quite with a consciousness that I knew something about it, in Aunt Milly’s face.

“What do you know about her?” cried Aunt Milly, rising up quite erect and rigid out of her chair. Her excitement was extreme. She had evidently gone beyond the point at which she could be surprised to find any stranger throwing light upon her mystery. But at that moment those steps for which we had been listening did ascend the stairs. We could hear them talking as they approached, the Italian with his accent and rather solemn dictionary English, and Harry’s voice that sounded so easy in comparison. Aunt Milly sank back again into her chair. She grasped the arms of it to support herself, and gave me a strange half-terrified, half-courageous look. In another moment they had entered the room.

Mr. Luigi came in without any idea, I dare say, of the anxiety with which we awaited him; but he had not been a minute in the room when his quick eye caught Aunt Milly, though she had drawn back with an involuntary movement of withdrawal from the crisis she had herself brought on. I could read in his face, the instant he saw her, that he divined the little contrivance by which he had been brought here. He stood facing her after he had paid his respects to me, and took no notice of the chair Harry offered him. As for Harry and I, not knowing whether they really knew each other, or whether{263} they ought to be named to each other, or what to do, we stood very uncomfortable and embarrassed behind. I said “Miss Mortimer,” instinctively, to lessen the embarrassment if I could. I don’t believe he heard me. He knew Miss Mortimer very well, however it was.

And it was he who was the first to break the silence. He made a kind of reverence to her, more than a bow, like some sort of old-fashioned filial demonstration. “Madame has something to say to me?” he asked, with an anxiety in his face almost equal to her own.

“Yes,” cried Aunt Milly, “I—I have something to say to you. Sit down, and let me get breath.”

He sat down, and so did we. To see her struggling to overcome the great tremor of excitement she had fallen into, and we all waiting in silence for her words, must have been a very strange scene. It was the merest wonder and curiosity, of course, with Harry and me; but I remember noticing even at that moment that Mr. Luigi was not surprised. He evidently knew something to account for her agitation. He sat looking at her, bending towards her with visible expectation of something. It was no mystery to him.

“Sir—young man,” cried Aunt Milly, with a gasp, “I do not know you; you are a stranger, a foreigner; you have nothing to do with this place. What, in the name of heaven, is it that you have to do with mine or me?”

Mr. Luigi’s countenance fell. He was bitterly disappointed; it was evident in his face. He drew a long breath and clasped his hands together, half in resignation, half appealing against some hard fate. “Ah!” he said, “I did hope otherwise—is it, indeed, indeed, that you know not me?”

Aunt Milly gave a cry half of terror. “I recognise your voice,” she said. “I see gleams in your face of faces I know. I am going out of my wits with bewilderment and trouble; but as sure as you are there before me, I know no more who you are than does the child who cannot speak.”

Mr. Luigi made no reply for some minutes. Then he made some exclamations in Italian, scarcely knowing, I am sure, what he was saying. Then he remembered himself. “Thing most strange! thing most terrible!” cried the young man; “not even now!—not even now!” and he looked round to us with such distress and amazement in his face, and with such an involuntary call for our sympathy, though we knew nothing about it, that his look went to my heart. Aunt Milly saw it, and was confounded by it. His genuine wonder and strange{264} grieved consciousness that she ought to have known this secret, whatever it was, stopped her questions upon her lips. She sat leaning forward looking at him, struck dumb by his looks. I was so excited by the evident reserve on both sides, which implied the existence of a third person whom neither would name, that I burst into it, on the spur of the moment, without thinking whether what I said was sensible or foolish. “Who?” I cried, “who is the other person that knows?”

Both of them started violently; then their eyes met in a strange look of intelligence. Aunt Milly fell back in her chair trembling dreadfully, trembling so much that her teeth chattered. Mr. Luigi rose. “I am at Madame’s disposition,” he said softly; “but what can I say? It is better I be gone while I do not harm Madame, and make her ill. Pardon! it is not I who am to blame!”

Saying so, he took Aunt Milly’s hand, kissed it, and turned to the door. She called him back faintly. “Stop, I have not asked you rightly,” said poor Aunt Milly. “Could not you tell me, without minding anybody else? Are you—are you?—oh! who are you? I do beseech you tell me. If wrong is done you, I have no hand in it. What is there to prevent you telling me?”

“Ah, pardon. I know my duty,” said the young man. “If she will reject me—then! but it is yet too early. I wait—I expect—she has not yet said it to me.”

Aunt Milly gathered herself up gradually, with a strange fluttered look in her eyes. “Reject you! God bless us! it is some mistake, after all. Do you know who it is you are speaking of? Do you know if it is my sister Sarah? She is my elder sister, ten years older than me,—old enough to be your mother—is it she? or, oh, God help us! is it a mistake?”

Mr. Luigi turned towards me for a moment, with a face melted out of all reserve, into such affectionateness and emotion as I scarcely ever saw on a man’s face. When she named her sister’s age, he said, “Ah!” with a tone as if her words went to his heart. But that was all. He shook his head. He said, “No more, no more,” and went slowly but steadily away. It was no mistake. What she said conveyed no information to him. He knew that Sarah’s age and all about her, better than her sister did, or I was mistaken. What he said, and still more what he looked, brought a strong sudden impression to my mind. I don’t know yet how I can be right—if I am right it is the{265} strangest thing in the world; but I know it darted into my head that morning when Luigi’s face melted out so strongly, and that cry which explained nothing came from his heart.

In the meantime, however, poor Aunt Milly sat wringing her hands and more troubled than ever, repeating to herself bits of the conversation which had just passed, and bits of other conversations which we knew nothing about. Harry and I, a little uncomfortable, still tried to occupy ourselves so that we should not hear anything she did not want us to hear; but we did not wish to leave her either. At last Harry went out altogether and left her alone with me, and by degrees she calmed down. I do not wonder she was painfully excited. There could be little doubt some strange, unnatural secret was concealed in her house.

“But you heard him say reject,” said Aunt Milly,—“if she rejected him—do you feel quite sure he understood my last question? Not knowing a language very well makes a wonderful difference; and what if he supposed my sister a young woman, Milly? When I began to be troubled about this business, I couldn’t but think that it was some old lover Sarah was afraid of meeting, forgetting the lapse of time. She was a great beauty once, you know. How do you suppose, now, an old woman could reject a young man?”

“But there are other meanings of the word than as it is between young women and young men,” said I; “he might mean disown.”

“He might mean disown,” repeated Aunt Milly slowly,—“disown; but, dear, dear child,” she cried, immediately throwing off her first puzzled hypothesis, and falling back at once into the real subject of her trouble, “what can he be to Sarah that she could disown him? Before you can disown a person he must belong to you. How could Mr. Luigi belong to my sister? but, to be sure, it is folly to put such questions to you that know nothing about it. Milly, dear, I’ll have to go home.”

“I am very, very sorry you are going home disappointed,” said I.

“Yes,” said Aunt Milly, with a great sigh, “it is hard to think one’s somehow involved in doing wrong, my dear; it’s hard to live in the house with your nearest friend, and not to know any more of her than if she were a stranger. What was I saying? I never said so much to any creature before. I take you as if you belonged to me, though you scarcely know me yet, Milly. I’d like you to settle to come out as soon as{266} possible, dear. I’d like you to see Sarah, and tell me what you think. Perhaps—there is no telling—she might say something to you.”

“But will she be pleased to know about us?” said I.

“It was her desire to seek for you,” said Aunt Milly. “She thought of that, somehow, just before this trouble came on. Sometimes it has come into my mind, that she thought if she found your father, he would have protected her somehow. I can’t tell: it is all a great mystery to me.”

And so she went away after a while, looking very sorrowful; but came back to tell me to put my bonnet on and come with her to Mr. Cresswell’s, who was to drive her home. On our way there I suddenly felt her grasp my arm and point forward a little way before us, where Mr. Luigi was walking slowly along the road by Sara Cresswell’s side. Aunt Milly came almost to a dead stop, looking at them. They were not arm-in-arm, nor did they look as if they had met on purpose. I dare say it was only by accident. Sara, as usual, was dressed in a great velvet jacket, much larger and wider than the one she wore indoors, and held her little head high, as if she quite meant to impress an idea of her dignity upon the Italian, who had to stoop down a long way, and perhaps did stoop down more than Aunt Milly and I saw to be exactly necessary. They went the length of the street together, quite unconscious of the critics behind them, and then separated, Mr. Luigi marching off at a very brisk pace, and Sara continuing her way home. We came up to her just as she reached her own door. She was certainly a very pretty creature, and looked so fresh and blooming in the morning air that I could not have scolded her a great deal, though I own I had a very good mind to do my best in that way, while we were walking behind. The moment she saw us she took guilt to herself. Her face glowed into the most overpowering blush, and the little parasol in her hand fell out of her trembling fingers. But, of course, her spirit did not forsake her. She was not the person to yield to any such emergency.

“We have been walking after you for a long time,” said dear Aunt Milly, in a voice which I have no doubt she supposed to be severe. “I should have called you to wait for us, had I not seen you were otherwise engaged.”

“Oh! then you saw Mr. Luigi, godmamma?” said Sara, quite innocently. “He says he thinks he has found out where the Countess Sermoneta is.”

“The Countess Sermoneta!—oh, child, child, how can you{267} speak so to me?” cried Aunt Milly. “I don’t believe there is any such person in the world. I believe he only makes a fuss about a name, no one ever heard of, to cover his real designs, whatever they may be.”

“Godmamma!” cried Sara, with a flash of fury; “perhaps it will be better to come indoors,” cried the little wicked creature (as Aunt Milly calls her); “nobody, that I ever heard of, took away people’s characters in the open street.”

Aunt Milly went in quickly, shaking her head and deeply troubled. The renewal of this subject swept Sara’s enormity out of her head. We followed, Sara bidding me precede her with a sort of affronted grandeur, which, I confess, was a little amusing to me. When we came into the dining-room, where Aunt Milly went first, the little girl confronted us both, very ready to answer anything we had to say, and confute us to our faces. But much to Sara’s surprise, and perhaps annoyance, Aunt Milly did not say a word on the subject. She shook her head again more energetically than ever. She was so much shaken on this one subject, that other matters evidently glided out of her mind, whenever she was recalled to this.

“No, no! depend upon it there’s no Countess Sermoneta. I believed in it at first, naturally, as everybody else did. It may be a lady, but it isn’t an Italian lady. No, no,” said Aunt Milly, mournfully; “he knows better. He said nothing, you may be sure, about her to me.”

At this moment Mr. Cresswell entered the room, and a little after the brougham came to the door. There was nothing more said on the subject. Sara saw them drive away, with a flutter of fear, I could see; but she need not have been afraid. Aunt Milly had returned into the consideration of her own mystery, which swallowed up Sara’s. I do not think, for my own part, that I had very Christian feelings towards Mr. Luigi as I went home.{268}

Chapter III.

FOR a few days after I was occupied entirely with my own affairs. We had promised to go to the Park to see that strange sister Sarah, who troubled Aunt Milly’s mind so much; and we had, of course, to make some little preparations for going—more, indeed, than were very convenient at such a time, as you may very well suppose. However, Aunt Connor, who had not paid the last half year’s interest, sent it just then, “all in a lump,” as she said herself, “thinking it would do you more good;” as indeed it did, though perhaps poor Aunt Connor had other motives than that one for not sending it just when it was due. Harry was quite pleased at the thought of going to the Park. He got leave of absence for a few days; and, naturally, it was a satisfaction to him, after feeling that he had been obliged to keep his wife in the shade so long, to say that it was to my relations we were going. And what with all the preparations for his going away as well, I was so very busy that I got little leisure to think. It is very common to say what good opportunities for thought one has in working at one’s needle—and it is very true so far as quiet, leisurely work is concerned; but when it happens to be making shirts and such things—and you know, with most men, merely to say they are made at home is enough to make them feel as if they did not fit,—it is quite a different matter. I was too busy, both mind and fingers, to do much thinking; and that was far better for me than if I had found more leisure. I used to go up to Lizzie’s room, which we called the nursery, and work there. Baby sat on the carpet, well protected with cushions, and furnished with things to play with. He was not very particular—his playthings were of a very humble and miscellaneous order; but I am sure he was as happy as a little king.

“And eh, isn’t it grand that his birthday’s come before the Captain gangs away? He’ll, maybe, be back,” said Lizzie, peering into my face with a sidelong look, “before another year.”{269}

“Hush!” said I, hastily; “but you must remember, Lizzie, to be particularly nice and tidy, and to look as if you were twenty, at least, when we go to the Park.”

Here Lizzie drew herself up a little. “I’ve never been among a housefu’ o’ servants,” said Lizzie, “that’s true—but I’ve been wi’ a leddy, and that suld learn folk manners better nor a’ the flunkeys in the world. For Menico says, as well as I can understand him, that there’s twa men-servants, and as mony maids as would fill a house. Eh, mem, wouldn’t it be a great vexation to see a wheen idle folk aye in the road? Menico’s no like a common man; there’s no an article he canna do; but as for just flunkeys to hand the plates and do about a house—eh, if it was me, I would think they werena men.”

“But Miss Mortimer’s man is not a flunkey; it was he who came with us in the omnibus,” said I.

“Yon gentleman?” said Lizzie, in great dismay. “I thought he was a minister; and eh, to think of him puttin’ on fires and waitin’ at the table! I would far sooner be a woman mysel’.”

“And have you any objection to be a woman apart from that?” said I. “I did not think you had been so ambitious, Lizzie. What would you do if you were a man?”

Lizzie’s colour rose, and her work fell from her hand. “I would gang to the wars with the Captain,” cried the girl, “I would aye make a spring in before him where danger was. I would send word every day how he did, and what he was doing. I would stand by our ain flag if they hacked me in pieces. I wouldna let the Hielanders stay still, no a moment!—I would dash them down on the enemy wi’ a’ their bayonets, and cry ‘Scotland and the Queen!’ and if we were killed, wha’s heeding!—it would be worth a man’s while to die!”

This outburst was more than I could bear. I forgot to think it was only Lizzie, a woman and a child, that spoke. I put my hands over my eyes to shut out the prospect she brought before me, but only saw the picture all the clearer, as my hand, with all its warm pulses beating, shut out the daylight. I could see Harry rushing before them with his sword drawn. I could hear his voice pealing out over their heads; I could see the smoke close over him and swallow him up. Ah, heaven!—pictures and stories are made out of such scenes. This creature by my side had flamed up into exulting enthusiasm at the thought. How many hearts attended those charging regiments, breaking against each other, heart upon{270} heart! It came to my heart to wonder, suddenly, whether there might not be some young Russian woman, like me, imagining that fight. Her husband and my Harry might meet under those dreadful flags,—she and I, would not we meet, too, in our agony? I held out my arms to her with a cry of anguish—we were sisters, though they were foes.

When I looked up Lizzie was crying bitterly, partly with her own excitement, partly, because she saw how cruel her suggestion had been to me. She did not mean it so, poor child. Baby sat playing all the time among his cushions, crowing to himself over the bright-coloured ball he had found under his heap of toys. I thought to myself he would laugh all the same whatever happened, and wondered how I should bear to hear him. But that was enough, that was too much. I stopped myself, as best I could, from going on any further. I got some linen that had to be cut out, and rose up to do it;—it was very delicate work. If I were not very careful, a snip of the scissors, too much or too little, might spoil all the stuff; for Harry was very fastidious, you know, about all his things, like most young men. It took some trouble to steady my hand enough—but I did manage it. I wonder what the Russian woman did, to calm her agitation down.

Lizzie recovered very hastily when she saw what I was doing. She picked up her work, and sewed for a long time so silently and swiftly, that the snip of my scissors and the movement of her arm, as she drew through her needle, were the only sounds, except those which baby made, to be heard in the room. At last she took courage to address me with great humility, asking only if it was “the day after the morn” that we were going to the Park?

I nodded my head in return, and Lizzie took courage to go on. The next question was whether the Italian gentleman would be there?

“The Italian gentleman! what has he to do with the Miss Mortimers?” cried I.

“Eh, it’s no me said it,” cried Lizzie, in alarm; “but yesterday, the day the leddy was here Menico was a’ the gate out there, ance errand wi’ a letter. I said what way did it no go to the post? and he said the post wouldna do. But I wouldna let on the leddy was here.”

“He went out with a letter, did he?” said I, in much surprise. “Was that where he was all day? I did not see him about till it was dark.”{271}

“There maun be another leddy?” said Lizzie, inquisitively; “and he gaed her some grand name or another. He’s awfu’ funny wi’ his names. He ca’s baby Signorino and ragazzino, and I dinna ken a’ what. I looked them up in the dictionary, and they were a’ right meanings enough. But it wasna Miss Mortimer he ca’ed the other leddy. Eh, mem, isn’t Menico getting grand at his English? and I’me aye improving mysel’ too,” said Lizzie, with a little blush and awkward droop of her head.

I was not much in the humour for laughing at poor Lizzie’s self-complacency; but I was rather anxious to hear all the gossip I could get for Aunt Milly’s sake. I asked immediately “Were they kind to Menico at the Park?”

Lizzie hesitated a little in her answer. “He’s rael clever at speaking,” she said, apologetically,—I suppose finding it rather hard to go back so soon after her laudation—“but when it’s a long story it’s no so easy to ken—no a’ he means. But I’m no thinking they were very good to him—for he was awfu’ angry when he came hame. And eh, to see him at his dinner! You would think he hadna seen meat for a week. It’s no a guid account of a house—no meaning ony harm of a great house like the Park,” said Lizzie, reflectively,—“when a man comes awfu’ hungry hame.”

Here there was a little pause while Lizzie threaded her needle. I don’t know whether she was indulging in any melancholy anticipations of the hospitality of the Park. However, presently she resumed her story again.

“And eh, mem! far mair than that,” said Lizzie, making a fresh start, “he brought back the very same letter just as it was—it might be because the leddy was out, or I dinna ken what it might be; but I saw him gi’e it back to the gentleman. And the gentleman, instead of being angry, he just took the letter and shook his head, and set fire to it at the candle. The door was open, and I saw him do it as I came up the stairs. It gaed to my heart to see him burning the good letter,” said Lizzie; “there was, maybe, something in’t that somebody might have likit to hear.”

“But, Lizzie, don’t you know nobody has any business with a letter except the person who wrote it, and the person it is addressed to?” said I.

I spoke, I confess, in an admonitory spirit. We did not get very many letters, but Harry was sadly careless of those he did get.{272}

“Eh, but foreigners are no like other folk,” cried Lizzie; “there’s something awfu’ queer in burning a letter, and it a’ sealed up. I couldna find it in my heart;—and when it’s a long story, it’s awfu’ fickle to understand Domenico, the half o’ what he says.”

Lizzie ended with a sigh of unsatisfied curiosity. Perhaps, if I could have done it, I might have been as anxious to cross-question Domenico as she.{273}

Chapter IV.

OUR little journey was arranged by Aunt Milly in the most comfortable way she could think of for us. Harry would not consent to let her send the carriage all the way. The railway was close to us, and it passed about two miles from the Park, where there was a little station; and the carriage was to meet us there. It was a very short journey, certainly; but I remember when we were all in the train,—all—every one of us,—a family entire and close together,—and especially at the moment when we were passing through the tunnel, and felt in the darkness more entirely separated from the world,—a sudden thought seized upon me: “Oh, if we were only going on, anywhere, anywhere to the end of the world!” Plunging through the darkness, with Harry sitting close by me, and baby on my knee, and nobody able to approach or stop us—going on all together! All sorts of people have their fancies, no doubt. I daresay mine were very homely ones; but I shall never forget the strange thrill that came upon my heart as this wild possibility seized me. When we came slowly into the daylight, and the train stopped, and the door of the carriage flew open, and dear Aunt Milly herself appeared to welcome us, I woke up with a little shiver into real life again. Ah me! one cannot dart into the bowels of the earth and hide one’s self. But life and duty somehow looked cold at me with their piercing daylight eyes after that thought.

Everything familiar stopped short and broke off when we got into the carriage. Aunt Milly was not a great lady. I don’t think anything could ever have made her a great lady; but it was clear she had been a person of consideration for many a year. I never had been in such a carriage before; indeed, I don’t think I had ever been in any carriage but a public one, for, of course, Aunt Connor was not rich enough to have a carriage of her own. But when I sat down by Aunt Milly’s side, I could not help feeling immediately that it all belonged to me. It was a strange feeling, and indeed, if nobody will be shocked, it was a very pleasing feeling. Instead of making me discontented, somehow it quite reconciled me to{274} being poor. My own opinion is, that people of good family, or whatever is equivalent to good family,—people that know they belong to a higher class, whether other people know it or not,—always bear poverty best. It does not humiliate them as it does people who have always been poor. I think I could have stood any remarks upon my bonnet, or even baby’s pelisse, with great equanimity after my visit to the Park; being poor looked so much more like an accidental circumstance after that. Perhaps I don’t explain very well what I mean, so I will just state it plainly, and then you may understand, or disagree with it, just as you choose. The higher one’s rank is, the better one can bear being poor. There! it is not the common opinion, but I believe it all the same for that.

And here was the Park, the very same great modern house that stood (leaning on the trees) in poor papa’s drawing, with two wings drawn out from the main body of the building, and a curious archway and a little paved court at the side before you came to the great door. We went to the great door as we were strangers, and I could see the grave face of my omnibus acquaintance peeping through a round bow-window close to the door before he admitted us, very solemnly and with profoundest abstract air. I wonder if he could remember us. His face looked as blankly respectful as if any idea on any subject whatever would somehow be unbecoming the dignity of the Park. Aunt Milly, who had gradually become fidgety, now took hold of my hand and drew me forward quickly. I went with her, a little astonished, but with no clear idea where I was going. She took me into a very long, very large room, with a great many tall windows on one side, a room so big as to look a perfect maze of furniture to me. I saw nobody in it, and did not think of it as being a room in common use. She had brought me to see some picture, no doubt. But Aunt Milly hurried me up this long room, with her hand upon my wrist, to a screen that seemed drawn so as to shelter one side of the fireplace. When we came in front of this, I was greatly startled to see a lady, with large knitting-pins in her hands, rise slowly from an arm-chair. There was nothing extraordinary in her look; she had fine features, I suppose,—I don’t think I know, very well, what fine features are,—she had white hair, and a pretty cap with soft-coloured ribbons, and a strange, studied, soft-coloured dress. I noticed all this unconsciously, in the midst of the nervous and startled sensation that I had in being brought in front of her so suddenly. She put both her knitting-pins into one hand, and held out the other to me. Then she bent{275} forward a little, meaning me to kiss her, which I did with much awe and with no great sensation of pleasure. Her hand was cold, and so was her cheek. I could scarcely help shrinking away from her touch. Then she spoke, and I, being quite unprepared for it, was still more startled. Her voice was a kind of whisper, very strange and unpleasant; all the s’s came out sharp, with a kind of hiss. I suppose it was because she was so entirely used to it herself that Aunt Milly never mentioned it to me.

“So you are Richard Mortimer’s daughter?” she said. “Sit down: I am very glad to see you. It is I that have been so anxious about finding you for some time past. But where is your husband? I want him to come as well as you.”

“He is in the hall. He will be here presently, Sarah,” said Aunt Milly. “I told Ellis to show him in, and the dear baby, too; but I could not keep back Milly from you for a moment. I knew you would be anxious to see her at once.”

“I wish to see her husband too,” said Miss Mortimer. “So your name is Milly? Because it was our principal family name, I suppose? Your father was a great man for family matters, because his father was such a leveller; otherwise I should have thought he would have called you after me.”

Why, I wondered? but indeed I had very little inclination to speak.

“I want to see your husband particularly. I should like you to live here. Milly says he is going to the Crimea,” said Miss Mortimer. “I hope he’s a reasonable man. Why shouldn’t he leave the army at once? I want him here. You were not the heir to an estate like the Park when he got orders for the Crimea. I see no reason in the world why he should not sell out and stay at home.”

I think she went on saying more, but I did not hear her; the great room swam in my eyes; she seemed all fading away into pale circles. I lost hold of the chair or something I was standing by. I don’t remember anything else till I felt some water dashed on my face, and gradually the pale circles cleared away, and I was in the same room again. I had no idea what had happened to me. I was lying on a sofa, though, now, with my face all wet, and a dreadful singing and buzzing in my ears, and Harry was there. I found out I had fainted. I never did such a thing in all my life before; how very foolish of me! and just when she was talking, too, about that—that chance. I caught hold of Harry’s fingers tight: “Go and speak to her!” I cried out. I could not keep still until{276} he went, for I could see the screen, and knew she was there.

When he disappeared behind the screen, and when, after a moment, Aunt Milly followed, always keeping her eyes on me, I lay perfectly still, grasping my two hands in each other. My mind was all seething up, as if in a fever, round what she had said. I was conscious of nothing else. I could not hear what they were saying now for the noise in my ears; but as I lay still a strange succession of feelings came over me. It was like so many breezes of wind, each cooler,—nay, I mean colder,—than the other. First it occurred to me what other people would say of him, of Harry, whom no one now durst breathe a doubt upon; then I thought of him fighting with himself for my sake, trying to put down his manhood and his honour to save breaking his wife’s heart; then I came to myself last of all. Would I? could I? I groaned aloud in my anguish. Oh, Russian woman, what would you say? There are plenty to be killed and sacrificed. Shall we let our children’s fathers go, to be lost in that smoke and battle? Harry burst out to me from behind the screen when I was in this darkness. I never saw him look as he looked then. He took my two hands and cried out in an appeal and remonstrance, “Milly, do you say so?” looking down at me with his eyes all in a blaze. I could not bear it. I put him away—thrust him away. They say I cried out to God in my despair. I cannot tell anything that I said but “Go!” Oh, Russian woman, I wonder if you made up your mind as I did! No, not if it were to break my heart; we could die, all of us, when the good Lord pleased; but the good Lord never pleased that one of us should make the other fail.{277}

Chapter V.

I FELT ill and shaken all the rest of that day. It was some time before they would let me get up from the sofa, and I quite remember how very strange it was to lie there in the great daylight room, with the sky looming in through the great window, and to watch, always so close by, and yet so distant, that screen which was drawn out by the side of the fire. I could not keep my eyes from that harmless piece of furniture. Aunt Milly kept coming and going, constantly talking to cheer me up, and bring things to show me. But no sound came from the screen. There, in that little space, shut off and shaded out of the centre of her home, sat the woman who already fascinated me with an influence I could not explain. Without knowing what I was doing—indeed, even I may say against my will,—strange recollections of stories I had read came up to my mind; about people in masks going whispering through an evil life, about the veiled prophet in the poem, about secret hidden creatures suspected of all manner of harm, but never found out, or betrayed. There she was, within three paces of me, concealed and silent,—or was it not rather watchful, lurking, with her bloodless smile and her shut up heart? My imagination, perhaps, is always too active; somehow it quite overpowered me that day. It seized upon Miss Sarah Mortimer’s looks and her voice, and the strange separation which she made by that screen between herself and the world. She was different—entirely different—from that old ghastly Miss Mortimer whom I used to dream of in my grandfather’s house; that one with her hair all mixed with grey, and her dark careless dress, sitting by the fire with the ghosts of the past about her, was a pleasant recollection in face of this. The great beauty, deserted of all the world and fallen into solitude, had something pathetic in her loneliness. But behind that screen there was no pathos that I could see; nothing human, I had almost said. What folly to speak so! To anybody’s eyes but mine, I daresay there was only an old lady very prettily and carefully dressed, everything about her looking as if it were intended to{278} repeat and reproduce the effect of her white hair; soft colours with clouds of something white coming over them. But I could not look at her in that way. I was in awe and afraid when I looked at the screen. It was a comfort to get out of the room, to go upstairs, where after a while Aunt Milly took me. But I could not forget her even upstairs. There she sat in her armchair, stony-eyed, knitting like one of the Fates,—or was it spin they did?—and that screen drawing a magical, dreadful shadow round her chair.

Aunt Milly had prepared our rooms for us with the greatest care, that was very evident. There was the daintiest little bed for baby, all new and fresh, evidently bought for him, and quite a basketful of new toys, which already he was doing his best to pull all to pieces. Oh, such bright, luxurious rooms! I felt my heart grow a little cold as I looked at them. Neither Harry nor Aunt Milly had said a word to me on the subject. They thought they could deceive me, I suppose; but the moment I saw these apartments, don’t you think I could see what they were planned out for? I was to be taken there when he went away.

“And, my dear, what do you think of your Aunt Sarah?” said her kind sister, looking rather wistfully into my face.

I was so foolish that I was half afraid to answer. How could I tell that our words were not heard behind the screen yonder? And as for meeting her eyes I could not have done that for the world.

“But you know she is not my Aunt Sarah,” said I. “It is a love name, dear Aunt Milly. I—I don’t know Miss Mortimer yet; you must let me keep it for you.”

“Hush! you have not known me much longer!” cried Aunt Milly, “No such thing, child! we are both the same relation to you. Poor dear Sarah! I forgot to tell you about her voice. Isn’t it very sad she should have lost her beautiful voice? She is very clever too, Milly,” said Aunt Milly, with a sigh. “When you know her better you will admire her very much.”

“But you know she jilted poor papa,” said I, trying to laugh and shake off my dread of the veiled woman downstairs.

“My dear! she jilted half the county!” said Aunt Milly, rather solemnly and not without a little pride. “Your Aunt Sarah was the greatest beauty that ever was seen when she was as young as you.”{279}

This speech made me smile in spite of myself. Dear Aunt Milly, perhaps, had been a little slighted by the county. She had no compunction about her sister’s prowess. I don’t know that I felt very sorry for her victims myself, even poor papa, I fear. But, ah me! what kind of a woman was this, I wonder, that had been an enchantress in her day! She was an enchantress still. She charmed me, as a serpent, I could suppose, might charm some poor creature. I wonder if there was any pity in her, any feeling that there was a God and a heaven, and not merely the century-old ceiling with the Mortimers’ arms on it, over her where she sat? I don’t believe she cared. I don’t think there was anything in the world but her own will and inclination, whatever it might be, that ruled her in her dreadful solitude. I wonder when she looked across her knitting at such a human creature as Aunt Milly how she felt; whether it ever came into her head to wonder which of them was contrary to nature? But I don’t suppose Miss Mortimer cared anything about nature. In this wonderful world, all so throbbing with life and affection, I think she must have known nothing but herself.

Thinking like this, you may suppose I could not deceive Aunt Milly to make her think I admired her sister. I kept off speaking of her; which, of course, though not quite so unpleasant, tells one’s mind clearly enough. Aunt Milly gave a little sigh.

“My dear, I see you don’t take to Sarah just at once. I was in hopes if you had taken to each other she might, perhaps, have told you something of what is on her mind. Because, you know, after all we have heard, something must be on her mind, whether she shows it or not. I am afraid it is all beginning again now, Milly; but somehow she hasn’t let her courage down as she did when that young man was about before. I suppose she’s more prepared now. She drove out quite calm yesterday, just as usual; though Mr. Luigi’s servant was out here with a letter the very day I saw his master at your house.”

“So I heard,” said I.

“So you heard! Dear! How did you hear? I know things spread in the most dreadful way,” said Aunt Milly, in great distress; “but to think that should have reached Chester already! What did you hear?”

“I heard it only from Lizzie, my little maid,” said I, pointing to the door of the other room. “Mr. Luigi’s servant and she are great friends.”{280}

Aunt Milly followed the movement of my hand with her eyes, a little awe-stricken. “She must speak his language, for he knows no English,” she said, with involuntary respect. “But dear, dear, she’s only a child! To be sure she’ll go and publish it all in the servants’ hall. But speaking of that, my dear, you ought to have a proper nurse. I felt very nervous about baby when I saw her carrying him. She may be big, you know, but she’s only a child.”

Here Lizzie, either because she had heard us, or by some sudden impulse of her own, knocked pretty loud at the door. I went to it a little timidly, rather apprehensive that she had been listening, and meant to defend herself. I did Lizzie great injustice however. She was standing in a paroxysm of joyful impatience on the other side of the door. I don’t believe the most injurious expression applied to herself could have reached Lizzie’s ears at that moment. She had her great arms stretched out, stooping over little Harry. Her face was perfectly radiant and flushed with delight. On they came, baby tottering on his own little limbs, half triumphant, half terrified, Lizzie with her wings spread out, ready to snatch him up the moment he faltered. Anybody may imagine what I did. I dropped down on the floor and held out my arms to him, and forgot all my troubles for the moment. When he came tottering into my arms, the touch of his little hands swept all the cares and sorrows out of the world. It was not for long. But a minute’s joy is a wonderful cordial; it strengthens one’s heart.

“And oh, mem!” cried Lizzie, lifting her apron to her eyes, “the Captain’ll see him afore he gangs away!”

“Go and fetch him,” cried Aunt Milly, turning her out of the room. Aunt Milly was nearly as delighted as she was; but she saw it was hard upon me to be continually reminded that Harry was to be gone so soon. By way of putting it out of my mind, she began such a lecture about letting babies walk too soon, and about weak ankles and bowed legs and all kinds of horrors, that I snatched my boy up on my knee, and was as much alarmed as I had been overjoyed. When Harry came, and found me half frightened to allow baby to exhibit his new accomplishment, and Aunt Milly doing her best to soften down her own declarations, and convince me that she referred to babies in general, and not to my boy, he burst into fits of laughter. I rather think he kissed us all round, Aunt Milly and all. He was in very high spirits that day. It did not occur to him what a struggle I had come through before I overcame Miss Mortimer’s temptation; he was contented to think{281} I had fainted from heat and excitement and all the fatigue I had been exposed to of late; and it was a comfort to him to have my real voluntary consent to his going away. Then this was to be my home, and here was my dear kind friend beside me. His heart rose, he laughed out his amusement and pleasure with the freedom of a young man in the height of his strength and hope. The sound startled the unaccustomed walls. I saw Aunt Milly look at him with a kind of delighted surprise and pleasure. Youth had not been here for long. I wondered did manhood, after Harry’s fashion of it, belong to the Mortimers at all? Many a day since, sitting in these silent rooms, the echo of Harry’s laugh has come back to me ringing like silver bells. Ah, hush! we shall all laugh when he comes back.

But when Lizzie came to take her charge, the expression of the girl’s face had completely changed. She took the child away with a certain frightened gravity that had a great effect upon me. Aunt Milly had left me by this time, and Harry had gone out to see the grounds, leaving me to rest. Resting was not very much in my way; of course I got up from the sofa the moment they were gone. What good would it do me, does anybody suppose, to lie there and murder myself with thinking? I went after Lizzie to ask her what was wrong. Lizzie was very slow to answer. There was “naething wrang; she wasna minding. The man in blacks had asked if she was the nurse or the nursery-maid. But it’s no my place to answer questions,” said Lizzie, with indignation, “and thae English they’re that saucy, they pretend they dinna ken what I’m saying. Eh, I would just like to let them ken, leddies and gentlemen ay ken grand what I’m saying! but they’ve nae education: ’Menico says that himsel’.”

“But what does ’Menico know about education, Lizzie?” said I.

Lizzie looked much affronted. “He mayna maybe ken English,” she said, “but he may be a good scholar for a’ that. The tither maids just gape and cry La! when he takes the dictionary, and laugh at every word he says. He says they’ve nae education, thae English. He’s no’ a common servant-man like that man in blacks. He kens a’ the gentlemen’s business and what he’s wantin’, and everything about it. Eh,” cried Lizzie, opening her eyes wide, and glancing behind her with involuntary caution, “do you think yon would be her?”

“Who?” said I. Was it possible that Lizzie knew?{282}

“Mem!” said Lizzie, with national unconscious skill and the deepest earnestness, “do you think there’s ony witches in this country, like what there was lang syne?”

I was a little startled by the question; it brought back to my mind in an instant that extraordinary picture which had so great an effect on my own imagination,—the veiled woman at her knitting with the screen behind her chair.

“Or the Evil Eye,” continued Lizzie, with a little gasp of visionary terror; “oh dinna say, if ye please, that I’m to bring him into yon muckle room! for I would do some ill to the house, or her, or myself—and would be carried, and no ken what I was doing, if she put any of her cantrips upon our bairn!”

“Lizzie!” cried I, “child, you forget what you are saying, and where you are!”

“Oh no, no’ me!” cried Lizzie with vehement tears in her eyes; “but, Mem, it maun be her; there’s nae other leddy except our leddy in this house. And if I was never to say another word, she’s no canny; I ken she’s no canny, if it was only what Domenico says.”

“In the name of wonder what does Domenico say?” cried I, driven to despair by the wild words in which there was no meaning. I don’t believe she knew herself what the meaning was.

Lizzie stopped short and repeated, with a puzzled and troubled glance at me, “When it’s a long story it’s awfu’ fickle to ken,” she said, slowly; “but just that yon’s the leddy. Eh, I dinna ken what they ca’ her right, nor what ill-will they have at her; but ’Menico, he says—he says—Mem, you’ll no be angry, it wasna me,—he says she’s the deil himsel’.”

“Lizzie,” said I, in considerable agitation, “try to recollect; Miss Milly wants to know; what does Domenico say?”

Lizzie blushed, and made a long pause again. “You see it’s the Dictionary, Mem,” she said, with a sigh. “When he’s tired looking up the words, he just gi’es a great burst out in the Italian, and thinks he’s explained it a’. It’s awfu’ fickle when it’s a lang story; but just it’s her; and eh! I’m sure she’s no canny by what Domenico says.”

I had to be content with this very unsatisfactory conclusion. It was all Lizzie could give me,—it was her; and she was a dreaded mysterious person against whom the Italian was struggling in vain. I felt a strange thrill of curiosity, deeply as my own mind was pre-occupied. Was it a melodrama or a tragedy I was about to be present at? The crisis, whatever it{283} might be, could not be long delayed. What part were we to play in it? why did she want Harry to stay? I did not say anything either to him or Aunt Milly of Lizzie’s communication or my own fancies; but it seemed to me somehow, when I passed through the rooms or along the passages that a certain tingling stillness, the pause before the storm, was closing round and round about the house.{284}

Chapter VI.

“WE were interrupted in our talk yesterday,” said Aunt Milly, “but I have not forgotten what you said about your little maid. My dear, I don’t think it is worth your while to warn her against talking about such matters. When they think a thing’s important, they are all the more likely to talk.”

“But you don’t know Lizzie,” said I.

“No,” said Aunt Milly, doubtfully. “I always have heard the Scotch were faithful servants; but it’s undeniable that they do love to talk. Besides, she’s only a child. My dear, has she any particular claim upon you?”

“Only that she is an orphan,” said I, “like Harry and me.”

“Ah, dear child! there’s two of you; it does not matter to you,” cried Aunt Milly; then she continued, rather anxiously, “I’d like to know, however, what she can tell about this, Milly. Ellis told me a confused story about a foreign man coming with a letter, and that he insisted on seeing the lady—the lady! and couldn’t talk no more sense, Ellis says. I understood by the description, it must be that man. There couldn’t be two fat foreign serving-men in a quiet county like this; and Carson, ‘as happened to be in the hall at the moment,’ Ellis tells me, spoke to him, ‘and they arguifyed for long in a queer language,’ and then he went away. I don’t know any more of it, my dear. This Lizzie of yours, if she can understand that man, and he told her of it, I wonder does she know any more?”

Then I told her of the further particulars which had come under Lizzie’s observation, the letter returned and destroyed. Aunt Milly once more grew a good deal excited. She walked about the room with a troubled face, and many exclamations; but on the whole it gave her comfort. “My dear, she can’t be afraid of him now,” said Aunt Milly; and with this piece of consolation she went away strengthened to her many businesses, for everything evidently is in her hands. That eldest sister of hers, whom I cannot call by any name of love, takes no share{285} in anything. When she does talk, she talks as if she were the sole mistress and ruler of the house; but Aunt Milly, though I understand they are quite equal in their rights, has all the trouble. It is very strange, but I could not feel so comfortable about her sending back that letter as Aunt Milly did. To tell the plain truth, a very distinct suspicion had entered into my mind about her. It flashed upon me when Mr. Luigi was speaking of her, and it grew stronger and stronger every hour I spent in the same room, though how it could be, was more than by any amount of thinking I could divine. I will not say what my fancy was; I was always too imaginative. I don’t want to commit myself till I see whether anything will occur to bear me out.

The next day was wet, and I had abundant means of seeing Miss Mortimer. I think my foolish faint that first day had quite settled me in her opinion. She saw I was a nobody from that moment. Accordingly all that rainy afternoon I sat by her in the strangest unsocial way. The fire was still kept up, though the weather was warm; and Aunt Milly had stationed me in her own easy chair, opposite her sister, and commanding the entire length of the room so that I could see who entered at the door, though Miss Mortimer could neither see or be seen by any one coming in. The five great windows were all very naked and bare, the curtains drawn back, and the blinds drawn up, according to Miss Mortimer’s fancy; she had always an amount of twilight at her command by movement of her screen. These five long lines of cold broad light, the cloudy sky looking full down upon us, and the blasts of rain driving against the cold transparent fence of glass which separated us from that outdoor world, where the early flowers hung their heads in the rain, and the shrubs cowered and drew together in the fitful gusts of wind, gave an extraordinary atmosphere to the picture. Then that long great mirror at the end of the room repeated the five windows in strange perspective, and reflected all the maze of space and crowd of furniture in bars of light and shadow; while here, in the centre, played the uncertain glow of the fire, much too warm, and making the air feel unnatural; and close before me sat Miss Mortimer with the screen carefully drawn round her chair. She had on her usual dress—her muslin scarf or shawl, I forget which, lined with pale blue silk, and ribbons of the same colour in her cap, and black lace mits upon her thin hands, which, when she happened to stop for a moment, she rubbed slowly before the fire. She did not talk to me. I{286} understand it was very rarely she talked to any one. Silently, as if it were some weird work she was about, she knitted on; but sometimes, as I was conscious, lifted her eyes from her knitting, and continuing her work all the time, surveyed me as I sat helpless before her. Every time the door of the room happened to open she repeated this. I felt her stare at me, as she might have stared at a mirror, to see who had entered the room; and it is impossible to describe how I felt under that look. I durst not answer it by turning my eyes upon her; but looking past her at the door, as one naturally does when the door of the room opens—and knowing her gaze to be fixed on me, I faltered, I trembled, my face burned in spite of myself. This went on till, in desperation, I fairly answered her look; then my feelings changed. Those blue eyes, which must have paled and chilled with age, were gazing with a watchful dread in my face. It was not me she was looking at. Her hands went on, in their dreadful inhuman occupation, while she found in my face a reflection of who it was that went in, or out, by that door behind her. It might be a habit she had got into; but I could read in her eyes that she sat there in full expectation of somebody or something arriving suddenly, which might startle and distress everybody else, but which she knew. Again, I saw the same contrast which I had seen between Aunt Milly and Mr. Luigi. This woman, like the Italian, was in no perplexity. She was not confused with a mystery she could not comprehend, as Aunt Milly was. She knew something was coming, and what was coming, and was prepared to defend herself, and hide her shame to the death.

Hide her shame! oh, how do I dare say it; how could I venture to say that she had disgraced herself, or even to think so? There she sat, clothed in a double respect, even by reason of all that made her so unlovely and distasteful to me, the real great lady of the house, served by everybody, imagining herself quite supreme; the head of the house, though she transferred all the trouble of it to other shoulders; Miss Mortimer, of the Park, a spotless maiden lady, who might have been, as the common story went, had she chosen to marry, almost of any rank she pleased. All that I knew; but as I gazed at her, the wild sudden fancy that had seized me before, grew stronger and stronger. A kind of loathing took possession of me. Shame may be dreadful, must be dreadful; but to deserve it, and yet to escape it—to know one’s self guilty, and fight all one’s life against the penalty—to shut one’s self up, heart and voice, like{287} that in a corner, waiting for the discovery and exposure which has become inevitable—and resolute by every lie and expedient of falsehood to resist and baffle it—the sight was hideous to me. I turned away from her with a feeling of sickness—then in the impulse of the moment I spoke.

“Should not you like to take this seat, Miss Mortimer, if you wish to see who comes in at the door?”

“How do you know,” she cried, in her strangled voice, “that I wish to see who comes in at the door?”

“I can see it in your eyes,” said I. I could not help a little shudder as I spoke. Her only answer was to draw a little further back into the twilight of her screen. I don’t think she looked at me again; but she did something else when Ellis came in the next time, which was quite as characteristic. She listened visibly, with an extraordinary intentness; her knitting stopped, though her eyes were bent on it. I could fancy she must have heard the very vibration of the man’s foot upon the floor, and satisfied herself by its sound what it was.

“Miss Milly’s compliments, ma’am, and will you please step into the library a moment,” said Ellis to me.

“Who’s in the library, eh?” interrupted Miss Mortimer, before I could speak.

Ellis faced round upon her slowly, with evident surprise: “I don’t know as it’s nobody, ma’am,” said the man; “Miss Milly has something to show the young lady.”

“Who’s in the house? why don’t you answer me? You are making up a story,” cried Miss Mortimer, almost with a shriek.

“Nobody, as I know on, but the Captain, as is in the stables, ma’am, looking at the colt,” said Ellis, doggedly, “and Miss Milly, as is waiting in the library for the young lady, with some pictures to show to her, as it looked to me; nor likely to come neither on such a day.”

Instead of resenting this speech as I supposed, Miss Mortimer smiled to herself with a nod. She gave a glance out from her screen at the blank of cloudy sky and the falling rain. It seemed to soothe her somehow. She relapsed back again, and resumed her knitting, without looking at or speaking to me. Did it relieve her to be told that nobody was likely to come on such a day? Could she imagine a spring shower was motive enough to keep the avenging truth away? I cannot tell. Who could tell? I might be wronging her cruelly to think of any avenger on his way. But I left the room, leaving her there with the blank clouds and rain, with the solitary{288} gleam of the decaying fire, in the heavy silence and broad light of the vast room. She was standing at bay, grim and desperate; but she could actually imagine that the fate which pursued her would be kept away by the April shower! I cannot express all the wonder, pity, and horror that come over my heart—such strange, strange, inconsequent blendings of the dreadful and the foolish were not in any philosophy of mine.{289}

Chapter VII.

I FOUND Aunt Milly in the library with some miniatures spread out before her. She wanted to show them to me. I can’t tell very well what had suggested this to her. She was kept indoors by the rain, and with this standing uneasiness in her mind, Aunt Milly naturally sought for some means of returning to a discussion of the subject that engaged all her thoughts. She made me sit down by her, and silently put one after another before me. I could see clearly enough what she meant. A certain family resemblance ran through them all, a resemblance which Aunt Milly herself had escaped, and of which I believe there was not a trace in my features. But one after another these portraits recalled to me the young Italian’s face.

“I ought to tell you,” said Aunt Milly in a tremulous tone, “what has occurred to my own mind. I have thought of it for some time, but it’s so very unlikely that I never could allow myself to think it. I do believe he must be my father’s son. Yes, you may well be surprised. I can’t think anything else but that my father must have married and had a son, and Sarah somehow had bullied him into leaving the child behind, and we’ve been deceivers all this time, and the Park has never been ours.”

“But, dear Aunt Milly,” cried I, “with all these terrible thoughts, why don’t you satisfy yourself. If you tell Miss Mortimer how much you have found out, she certainly cannot help clearing up the rest.”

“Ah! but she can help it—she is not carried away by her feelings; she knows better than to be surprised or anything like that. I have asked her and been none the better for it,” cried Aunt Milly, “and the young man will not tell me either. Milly, hush! there is certainly some one at the door.”

The door bell at the Park was a peculiar one—it had a solemn cathedral sort of sound that rolled through the whole house, and it was only used by strangers or visitors on ceremony.{290} Both of us started violently when we heard it; it came upon our consultations like a sudden alarm of battle.

“It rains as bad as ever; on such a day who can ring the great bell at our door?” cried Aunt Milly. “God help us! if my father walked in at that door, I should not feel it was anything out of the way. Nothing would surprise me now.”

I could not make her any answer. We both sat perfectly silent, waiting for what was to come. As if to heighten the excitement of the moment, the rain, which had been falling steadily all day, suddenly became violent, and dashed against the windows in torrents. Through all this we could hear the great door opened and the sound of voices. My thoughts travelled into the great vacant drawing-room where these sounds could not fail to reach Miss Mortimer within her screen. What was she doing? Could she be sitting there still, dumb and desperate, listening but not looking, with a pride and resistance more dreadful in its self-control than the wildest passions! I trembled with suspense and wondering anxiety in spite of myself. As for Aunt Milly, the miniatures she was looking at fell out of her hands. She covered her eyes for an instant, and then lifted her scared and pallid face to the door, as if she could hear the approaching sounds better, for having her eyes fixed that way. There was a pause that I suppose did not endure a minute, but which looked like an hour. Then a soft tap at the door; then Ellis entered, looking half as pale and anxious as we did—vaguely frightened he could not tell how.

“Miss Milly,” he said, in a hasty troubled voice, “the gentleman is here as wants Miss Mortimer; what am I to do?”

The old mistress and the old servant looked at each other. The man did not know anything, but he knew the involuntary suspicion and dread that had somehow gathered about the house.

“What are we to do? God help us, Ellis, I know no more than the baby!” cried Aunt Milly under her breath.

She was carried by her excitement beyond her usual discretion. I interposed as I best could.

“Let it come to the crisis!” cried I, not being well aware what I said; “it must be best to know clearly Aunt Milly—hush!—recollect, you know nothing—let him go in.”

She made a convulsive pause and restrained herself; and then the usual keeping up of appearances recurred to her mind. “My sister’s voice! you know, Milly,” she said,{291} turning to me as if with a kind of apology,—“who—who is it, Ellis?”

“It’s—it’s the foreign gentleman, ma’am,” said Ellis, with a sympathetic faltering of his voice.

“Then show him in to Miss Mortimer?” cried Aunt Milly with a gasp over the words. “You shouldn’t have spoken so, my dear,” she said as soon as he was gone, “servants have nothing to do with our private affairs. Dear, dear, it’s surely very cold. It’s the storm come on so suddenly—a hail-storm, I declare. Don’t you feel, Milly, how cold the air has grown?”

I made no answer, and she did not expect any. She went up close to the library door, and stood there as if listening, shivering now and then with the nervous chill of her own emotion. We heard the drawing-room door open and shut,—then silence, silence, something positive, not merely an absence of sound. I stood by the table trembling, fancying I saw the stranger pass, as if through a picture, up that empty-seeming room, with the cold chill daylight spying in, and the motionless, conscious creature who feared and yet defied him lurking behind that screen. Would she speak to him? If she did it would not be with that stifled whispering voice. What communication would pass between them? Would the old walls groan with some dark secret fatal to their honour? The very air tingled round us in the dead calm of the house. Surely it never was so noiseless before. As for Aunt Milly, she stood before me shivering at the door, sometimes putting her hand upon the lock, then drawing back in irresolute terror. This lasted for some time, though most likely for not half so long as I imagined it did; then she turned to me, wringing her hands and bursting out into tears and cries.

“I cannot leave her alone any longer, Milly,” she said in broken words. “I cannot desert her in time of need;” and made as though she would leave the room, and then returned and sank into a chair and hid her face in her hands.

She was entirely overwhelmed and broken down. All I could do for her, was to get a shawl which hung over the sofa, and wrap it round her. All this had been too much for her strength.

In the midst of our suspense, Harry came suddenly in upon us. The sound of his honest frank step ringing into the library, startled me back to life again, and even Aunt Milly lifted up her blanched face expecting him to bring some news.{292} Harry looked startled and curious, and did not grow less so as he looked at our agitated faces.

“What is the matter, Milly?” he cried. “I passed the drawing-room windows just now, and looked in thinking to see you. Miss Mortimer was standing at a table looking over some papers, and by her side was Luigi, talking very earnestly. By Jove! to see them standing there you would have said they were mother and son.”

At these words Aunt Milly lifted up her head, listening,—but Harry’s expression did not seem to strike her; she held up her finger and cried “Hark!”

The silence was broken. A bell evidently rung—a door hastily opened—startled us all three standing together. “Shall Harry go after him?” cried I, seeing how it was and pointing Harry to the door; but Aunt Milly would not, or perhaps could not, suppose that the visitor was merely going away. She sprang up, crying, “She must be ill!” and rushed out of the library. I followed her, alarmed, but not for Miss Mortimer. I saw Luigi standing at the open door, just about to go out into the cold rainy world out of doors, but Aunt Milly did not see him. She rushed forward blindly into the room where she supposed her sister to be ill.

When I rushed in after her I found the usual positions of the two ladies much reversed. Miss Mortimer was standing between the fire and the window, looking at her sister with a certain fierce scorn. Aunt Milly had sunk down in utter exhaustion and bewilderment upon a large ottoman. The two were looking at each other, Aunt Milly all trembling, pallid, and anxious. Miss Mortimer, with her head more erect than usual, her muslin mantle hanging back from her shoulders, her attitude very rigid and exact, and no symptom of excitement about her, save in the slight hurried incessant movement of her head and hands. A mere spectator would have said she was the judge and the other the culprit. It was an extraordinary scene.

“What did he say? Who is he? What does he want? Sarah, tell me for the love of heaven,” cried Aunt Milly in her agony of distress and terror.

“Who is he? I am not a girl to distinguish any one person by that name,” said Miss Mortimer.

Then she went back steadily to her chair, and sat down in it and took up her knitting.

“Any one who thinks to surprise me into speaking of my private affairs, is mistaken,” she said after a while.{293} “Gossips like you may talk as they please; but what belongs to me is mine, and nobody in the world has a right to ask what I either do or say.”

That was all. She never opened her lips again that day. She sat there rigid, pretending to work; she did not work however. I noticed that to keep her hands and her head from excessive trembling was almost more than she was able for; but the day passed without any disclosure. I believe now she would die sooner than make any sign.{294}

Chapter VIII.

THAT was a very miserable day. I cannot fancy a more uncomfortable position for a stranger than that of being thrust into some distressing family secret, almost immediately after his or her introduction to the family in which it exists. This was just what had happened to me. I was kept one way or the other between those two sisters all the day. Aunt Milly kept continually appealing to me with her eyes, for conversation would not keep up its fluctuating and feeble existence in presence of that figure within the shelter of the screen; and my unlucky position of confidante must have been so apparent that I should not have wondered at any degree of dislike or displeasure which Miss Mortimer could have shown me. She did not show any, however; I could discern no signs of aversion to me. What am I saying? I could discern no signs of any human feeling whatever in her appearance and behaviour that day. My impression was that the sole thing with which her mind was occupied, was the effort to keep her head steady, and overcome the nervous, tremulous motion which agitated her frame. It was a relic, it might be an evidence, of some unseen tempest. But I am firmly convinced that this was the subject of all her thoughts. I watched, I must confess, with intense curiosity, though as quietly as possible, that she might not see I was watching her, every movement she made. But she did not notice me; she scarcely noticed anybody; she was careless of what other people were thinking; what she laboured after, all that miserable, lingering, rainy night was to get the command of herself. She never ventured to unbend her attitude in the slightest degree. She set her teeth together sometimes, and made her face look ghastly; but she could not keep down that external symptom of the trouble or tempest within. Her head kept moving with an incessant tremble; her hands were too much agitated to pursue their work. She kept the knitting-pins in her fingers, and held them rigidly together, as if she were knitting, and sometimes made a few convulsive stitches, and dropt them again, and bent in a tragical dismal confusion over that trifling occupation of hers, which had grown so weird{295} an adjunct of herself to me. I watched her with a certain horror and pity which I cannot describe. It was not her paltry wealth and lands she was defending; it was her honour and her life. There she sat a solitary desperate creature driven to bay, with dear Aunt Milly’s vague terrors and anxieties revolving about her; but conscious in herself of a misery and danger far transcending anything in her innocent sister’s thoughts. Life and honour! but I believed there was no way in this world to defend them but by unnatural falsehood, cruelty, and wrong, and that she did not shrink from these means of upholding herself. Perhaps even a virtuous struggle would have exercised less fascination, than the sight of that desperate guilty secret resistance. I could not keep my eyes from Miss Mortimer. There was something terrible to me in her convulsive efforts after stillness, and in the nervous motion which continually betrayed her, and which no exertions on her part could overcome.

But she sat out all the lengthy lingering hours of that evening, after dinner, for they departed from their usual customs at that time, and dined late out of compliment to Harry. We did try to talk a little, but Aunt Milly’s thoughts were all astray upon one subject, and she was continually breaking off in abrupt conclusions which irresistibly suggested the engrossing matter which she dared not enter upon. Miss Mortimer, meanwhile, attempted to read her Times; but whether it was that the rustle of the paper betrayed the trembling of her hands, or that her mind was unfit for reading anything, she soon laid the paper by, and resumed her pretence of working. You may suppose that Harry and I were not very much at our ease in this strange position of affairs. Almost everything that was said among us suggested a something which could not be said, yet which occupied everybody’s thoughts. Aunt Milly sat flushed and troubled opposite to her sister; her distressed perplexed look, the look of one totally at a loss and unable to offer any explanation even to herself; her glances, sometimes directing me to look at Miss Mortimer, sometimes appealing to me in vain for some suggestion which could throw light upon the subject, were enough of themselves to betray to any stranger the existence of some secret unhappiness in the house. Harry, who was not so much in Aunt Milly’s confidence as I was, kept appealing to me on the other side. What was it all about? I never wished so fervently for the conclusion of a day as I did for that; and yet there must be some extraordinary fascination in watching one’s fellow-creatures. I should not like to get{296} fairly into that dreadful inhuman occupation which people called studying character. But I was so curious about Miss Mortimer that I could almost have liked to follow her to her own room, and watch, when she was no longer on her guard against other people, how she would look and what she would do. Would she faint, or cry out, or dash herself against the floor? or was she so accustomed to that dreadful secresy that she would not betray herself even to herself? She must have lived that dreadful hidden life, and locked up all she knew in her own breast for a lifetime; for a longer lifetime than mine.

“I wonder,” said Henry, when we were alone that evening, “what sort of a person this Miss Mortimer is. Something’s wrong clearly. I suspect there must be something in the old lady’s life which will not bear the light of day.”

“What makes you think so?” said I.

“The t’other old lady and you play into each other’s hands,” cried Harry; “you know more about it than you choose to tell. But of course you are right enough if it is somebody else’s secret; only recollect, Milly, I am very glad you should be an heiress; I am extremely glad you will have a house to receive you while I am away, and that come what may, that little beggar is provided for; but look here, if there’s another relation nearer than you, legitimate or illegitimate, I won’t stand by and see him wronged.”

“Harry, tell me what you mean,” cried I.

Harry looked at me a little indignantly; he thought I knew more than he did, and was trifling with him. “Milly, who is that fellow Luigi?” he said at last.

“I make dreadful guesses,” said I, “but I cannot tell. Aunt Milly knows nothing about him. The only idea she can form is that he may be her father’s son.”

Harry gave a long, half amazed, incredulous whistle, and turned away. He could scarcely believe me. Then I told him all I had heard, and something of what I had guessed. We did not converse plainly about this guess, which he had evidently jumped at as well as myself. A secret held with such dreadful tenacity was not a thing to be lightly discussed; but we both felt the same on the subject, only Harry’s mind took a more charitable view of it than I did. They say we are always harder on guilty women than men are; perhaps it is natural. I felt an abhorrence rise within me which I could neither overcome nor disguise at the idea of a woman, and especially a woman in such a position as Miss Mortimer, having lived a pretended life of honour and innocence all these years, with{297} that guilt in her mind which nobody knew but she; and now of her sacrificing and disowning nature to keep up that dreadful sham. I can understand people meeting death rather than disgrace; that is, I mean I could understand how one would rather hear that those whom one loves should die than disgrace themselves; but I don’t understand an insane struggle against the disgrace which one has deserved. That is not a noble struggle, so far as I can see; the only way of existing through such dreadful circumstances would be by enduring it; and all the same whether it was a woman or a man. I do think it is a shame to speak as some people speak on this subject, as if the disgrace were all; as if all the harm was not done when the wrong was done, whether disgrace came or no!

“I’ll tell you what, Milly,” said Harry, “I must say I think it’s very hard the poor old lady should lose her good name for something that happened an age ago. No doubt, by what we saw to-day, she must have set her poor old heart upon resisting and denying it, as foolish people always try to do. Now, you know, that’s evidently of no use. Of course a mere statement of any such claim having been made, is enough to finish Miss Mortimer, with all the gossips of the county, whether it was proved or not. Now I shan’t be here for long, and as they seem disposed to be so very kind to you——”

“Don’t, Harry!”

“But I must,” said he. “It will be no end of consolation to me to think of you in these pretty rooms which Miss Milly has already prepared for you. If I can do them a good turn before I go, I will, you may depend upon it. As soon as we return to Chester I’ll see Luigi; and if it can be got out of him what he wants, I shall certainly make an effort to have him satisfied, and Miss Mortimer left unmolested. It would not do if sins of thirty years standing were to be brought against people in this way. Why, anybody might be thrown into sudden shame on such a principle; and you women, you know, are so vindictive and all that——”

“Oh, yes! I know,” said I, “and will always be vindictive all the same. Imagine this woman standing side by side with Aunt Milly, and considered as spotless as she; imagine such a long cruel abominable sin, and no retribution overtaking it! Oh, you may be pitiful if you like, but it disgusts me.”

Harry laughed. “I should be surprised if it did not disgust you, Milly darling,” he said, “but poetic justice is exploded now-a-days. I don’t suppose Luigi can be very anxious for her personal affection, considering how she seems to have behaved;{298} and, indeed, to be sure he would be fully more disgraced than she. How many days are we to be here? I shall see him whenever we return to Chester.”

“Three days longer,” said I, with a sigh. “Somehow this little visit to the Park had come to look like a little barrier between me and what was coming. Presently we should go back to Chester, and then——”

Harry understood my sigh. He repeated the very words I was saying in my mind. “And then——” said Harry, “and then, darling, to see which of us two is bravest! But it will come hardest upon you, my poor little wife.”

“Harry,” cried I, “don’t speak!” and I went away, and would have no more of such talk. It was enough that it was coming; it would be enough when it came.

Perhaps the last few words of this conversation were not the best preparation possible for sleep. I know I awoke a great many times during that long dark night, and once in its deepest darkness and stillness I fancied I heard a groan faintly sounding through the wall. Miss Mortimer’s rooms were near ours. This sound set all my imagination busy again. It was she who groaned under that veil of night. She, so dreadfully on her guard all day long, who relieved her miserable heart thus when nobody watched her. It was impossible not to feel excited in the neighbourhood of such mysterious secrecy. The sound of that groan moved me to pity;—she had not escaped without retribution. Was not that dread of the consequences under which she was suffering, worse than the very hardest shape the consequences were likely to assume, if they themselves ever overtook the sinner?{299}

Chapter IX.

THE next day began much like the previous day; it was still showery and damp; and though Harry was out of doors I was prevented, by Aunt Milly’s care, from joining him. In the afternoon we were to go out with her on a round of inspection to see the neighbourhood, Miss Mortimer having volunteered to give up the carriage to us for that purpose, though it was the day on which she generally took her drive; and the rector and some other near neighbours were to come to dinner in the evening. I was once more alone with Miss Mortimer. We sat much as we had done on the previous day, opposite each other, the moments passing over us in a certain excited silence. She did not say anything to me; she did not even look at me. She showed none of that voiceless anxiety to know who had come in when the door opened, which struck me before. She was much calmed down; the person she expected had come; the blow, whatever it was, had been borne; and for the present moment there was an end of it. She actually knitted her pattern correctly, and counted her stitches, and referred to her book to see if she was correct, as she sat there before me in her inhuman calm. Was she a creature of flesh and blood, after all? or a witch, like those of the old stories, without any human motives in her heart of stone?

I could not help thinking so as I sat beside her. Her head still trembled slightly; but I suppose that was an habitual motion. She sat there shut up in herself,—her misery and her relief, and the cold dauntless spirit that must have risen from that smart encounter yesterday, and gained strength by the very struggle—hidden from everybody round her, as if they had been a world away. I gazed and wondered, almost trembled, at that extraordinary death in life. She who had all the tumult of passion and guilt in her memory; she who must have entered into the fullest excitement of life, and got entangled in its most dreadful perplexities; she who was no ascetic, nor even pretended to that rival excitement of the devotee which might have replaced the other; how could she have lived silent and obdurate through those dreadful years? The very thought of{300} them struck me aghast. After her life of flattery, admiration, and universal homage; after her experience, whatever that might be, of more personal passions, to drop for a longer time than my whole life behind that screen into that chair! As I sat opposite to her, my thoughts turned back to that other Miss Mortimer, whom I had placed in imagination in my grandfather’s house. Once more I thought I could see that large low room which I never had seen, except in fancy, with the ancient beauty sitting silent by the fire amid the ghosts of the past. Was this the true impersonation of that dream of mine? Was this the Miss Mortimer, with her foreign count, whom Mrs. Saltoun remembered? As this recurred to me I could scarcely help a little start of quickened curiosity and eagerness. It seemed to flicker before me as a possible interpretation of all this dark enigma, could only the connecting link be found. As I was wandering deeper and deeper into these thoughts—so deep as to forget the strange position I stood in, and the possibility of being taken for a kind of domestic spy, which had embarrassed me at first—I heard a little commotion outside. The door, perhaps, was ajar, or it might be simply that my ears were quickened by hearing a little cry from baby, and Lizzie’s voice belligerent and full of determination. I got up hastily and went to the door. I don’t think Miss Mortimer even lifted her eyes to notice my movement. It was certainly Lizzie in some conflict with one of the authorities of the house; and Lizzie, as the natural and primitive method of asserting her own way, had unconsciously elevated her voice; a proceeding which alarmed baby, and also, as it appeared, her antagonist. I ran and threw the door open as I heard another cry from my little boy. There, outside, was a curious scene. Lizzie, in her out-of-doors dress, just returned from a walk in the garden with baby, with her face a little flushed, and her plentiful hair somewhat blown about by the wind, was resolutely pressing forward to enter the drawing-room, where, to be sure, she had no business to come; while holding her back by her cloak, and whispering threats and dissuasions, was a person whom I had scarcely seen before, but whom I knew at once to be Carson, Miss Mortimer’s maid. Lizzie was greatly excited; and what with managing the baby and resisting this woman, while at the same time possessed with some mission which she was evidently determined to perform, looked fatigued and exhausted too.

“But I will,” cried Lizzie, with her eyes flashing. “I’m no heeding whether it’s my place or no. I promised I would gi’e{301} it into her ain very hand; and do ye think I’m gaun back o’ my word? I tell ye I will gie’t to the leddy mysel’. Eh, mem!” she exclaimed, breathlessly, with a sudden change of her tone as she saw me, “I met Menico at the gate, and I promised to gi’e it into the leddy’s ain hand.”

When I approached, Carson fell back; she shrank, I could fancy, from meeting my eyes. Her hand dropped from Lizzie’s cloak; she was as much afraid to be supposed to interfere as she was anxious to interfere in reality.

“My missis’s nerves, ma’am,” said Carson, glibly, but in a half whisper, “is not as strong as might be wished. If the young person, ma’am, would give it to me, or——. You see the ladies at the Park they’re known for charity, and beggars’ letters, or such like, they’re too excitin’ for my missis’; they puts her all in a tremble—it’s on her nerves.”

“But, mem,” cried Lizzie, “I canna go back o’ my word.”

I stood between them, much perplexed and bewildered. The anxiety of Miss Mortimer’s maid was evident; and Lizzie, from whose arms baby had instantly struggled as soon as he saw me, was greatly excited. At this moment she produced the letter which was in question. Carson made a stealthy spring to seize it, but recollecting herself, drew back, and looked up guilty, but deprecating in my face. I don’t know whether it was a desire to clear up the mystery, or the cruel curiosity of an observer of character that decided me. I dismissed Carson coldly, saying I would ring if Miss Mortimer wanted her, and told Lizzie to follow me into the room. Lizzie’s excitement sank into awe as she trod softly through this great, faded, magnificent apartment. Before she reached the screen which sheltered Miss Mortimer, she was almost speechless with half superstitious reverence. I am sure she would willingly have given her letter to Carson or anybody at that moment. The very fact that the person she was about to confront was thus concealed from her overawed her simple mind. When she actually emerged from behind the screen, and came in full sight of Miss Mortimer, Lizzie’s healthful face was perfectly colourless, and her frame trembling. The supreme awkwardness of the attitude into which she fell, the spasmodic rudeness with which she thrust out that hand that contained the letter, the fright and consternation visible in every twist of her person, would have been painfully ludicrous if there had been any time to observe it. Miss Mortimer raised her eyes and stared at the strange figure before her. Almost absurd as that figure was in its dismay and terror, her mind was not sufficiently at ease to be{302} simply surprised. Any strange apparition had a right to appear before this woman in her intrenchments of dumb resistance. As I stood by looking on, I could understand the feeling which worked in her eyes. She was not surprised. No miracle could have surprised her. She was rather asking in her heart, “Who is this new assailant? Who will come next?”

“If ye please, it’s a letter,” said Lizzie, in a tremulous voice.

Miss Mortimer made no attempt to take the letter. She said, “Who are you?” with a strange curiosity; as if, amid all the powers that had a secret right to assail her in her conscious guiltiness, this was a new hobgoblin whom she could not well connect with the others. If there were any purgatory, I could fancy a poor soul there asking in the same tone the name of the new imp who came to torment it.

This was more than Lizzie could bear. I don’t know what perplexed terrors and superstitious ideas of evil influence brought back the blood to her cheeks. She trembled all over under that eye, which had suggested the idea of the Evil Eye to Lizzie, and to which she was determined never to expose “our bairn.” She must have endured a kind of martyrdom as she stood under its steady gaze. “Eh, me? I’m no onybody,” cried Lizzie, shivering with excitement; “it’s just a letter. I said I would gi’e it into the leddy’s own hand.”

Miss Mortimer turned upon me—on the child—on the very mirror on the further wall, a look of silent defiance; she seemed to look round to call upon the very apartment in which we sat to witness what she did. Then she took the letter from Lizzie’s rigid fingers, and with scarcely a motion, except of her hand, dropped it into the fire. After she had done it, she turned again to us with another steady look, and even with a smile; triumphant!—with a certain gleam of devilish satisfaction in her success, as if she had baffled us all once more. But in that very moment, while she still smiled, I could see her hold herself fast between the arms of her chair, to keep down the nervous tremor which seized her. That resisting, defying spirit was lodged in nothing stronger than a human frame. Her head shook, steadied, trembled again, with a force beyond all her power of control. With all that soul of successful evil in her face, her head shook as if with the palsy of extreme old age, and in spite of the most convulsive strenuous efforts to keep it still. I was nearly as much awe-struck as Lizzie. I stole out of sight of her as the girl did. Never was there such a picture! She could conquer nature, truth, and every human{303} feeling; but she could not conquer those tremulous chords and threads of mortal flesh which refused to be in the conspiracy. She sat there dumbly defying every scrutiny, but with the smile growing fixed and ghastly on her face as she tried, with her utmost desperate feeble strength, and failed, to defy and overcome herself.

I asked Lizzie no questions as she came upstairs after me. I did not say anything to her when I heard her sobbing out her agitation in her own room. There was not a word said between us when she came refreshed by that little ebullition, and by the necessary arrangement of her wind-blown hair and dress, to take charge of little Harry. When I had given the child up to her, I went downstairs again, quite silent and eager. You may very well ask why. I cannot defend myself. I went down with no better motive than to watch Miss Mortimer, and see if anything more could be found out.

When I went into the room I saw nobody, but heard some voices and movement behind the screen. I believe if Miss Mortimer had been speaking in the ordinary human voice, I should not have heard her at that distance; but I did hear that strange stifled whisper almost as well as if it had been hissed into my ear.

“I must deny, deny, deny,” said the strange voice. “Don’t speak to me, you know nothing about it. It is the only strength I have.”

“But, oh! dear, dear, such a pretty young gentleman!” said the other speaker, in a tone of weeping but hopeless remonstrance.

“Let him prove his rights,” said Miss Mortimer.

I obeyed my instincts, and fled out of the room as I heard that she was stirring behind the screen. And I had not been mistaken in the guess I made. She came out a few minutes later, leaning on Carson’s arm, leaning heavily, with her head trembling like that of a palsied person; but her eyes full of that dreadful self-possession, knowledge and resistance. I trembled, too, as I stood aside to let her pass. She did not say anything, though she stared hard at me. The maid, though she did her best to make up her usual face when she saw me there, was evidently overpowered with anxiety and distress.

There was, then, one other individual who knew that secret—one creature who loved that dreadful old woman, and in whom she trusted. I could not help standing still to look after them as they went upstairs. Carson was very little younger than her mistress. She had a naturally anxious look, as well she{304} might if she had been for years the depository of this secret. I could not help picturing their life to myself as they went upstairs: the innocent woman troubled and tearful, the guilty woman calm and immovable, but for that trembling of her frame which even her remorseless will was not strong enough to subdue. I could understand better now how she kept alive, and could preserve that frightful stillness of hers. Upstairs, in their own apartments, no doubt another life went on; a life of recollections and schemes which no one knew of, a life palpitating full of those past years of which Miss Mortimer gave no sign. That was how she kept herself alive. I could not do anything but stand still, watching them, as they went slowly up to that retirement, where the mask could be laid off and the veil drawn. When they were out of sight, I strayed into the great vacant drawing-room, unable to withdraw my thoughts from this strange pair. “I must deny, deny, deny!” That was the position she had taken. Could any one in existence—could Luigi, a sensitive and high-minded young man as he seemed to be—seek motherly love from such a woman as this? Motherly love! it was dreadful even in thought to apply such words to anything that could come from her. Shame only, shame to both. What motive could he have to go on seeking her? for Nature had evidently no place in her heart of stone.{305}

Chapter X.

“BUT, dear, dear, where’s Sarah?” cried Aunt Milly, when some time later she came into the room.

I felt almost as guilty as if I had suddenly got some share in Miss Mortimer’s secret. “She was going upstairs when I came in,” said I; but I could not find it in my heart to say what new accident had done this.

Aunt Milly looked at her chair and her footstool, and the work-basket she had left behind, as if she might possibly ascertain something from them. “My dear, it will be well to avoid the strangers to-night,” she said, nodding her head, as if this conclusion was, on the whole, not unsatisfactory; “and, indeed, Milly, though you may think it strange of me to say so, I am not sorry; for Miss Kate, I am afraid, would be very likely to mention something about that poor young man, whoever he may be!” said Aunt Milly, with a sigh. “Dear, dear, to think what troubles people make, both for themselves and others, that might be avoided by a little openness. Why couldn’t he have told me, my dear? If he has claims, I’d have seen him satisfied to the very last farthing, Milly! and if he hasn’t claims, why should he persecute Sarah and me?”

“But it might be something he couldn’t tell,” said I, rashly.

“Something he couldn’t tell? What do you mean, child? What sort of a connection could he have with our family that he couldn’t tell?” cried Miss Milly. “I see what you mean. He might be a natural son. Harry has put that into your head, now, for I am sure you never could have thought of it of yourself. Milly, Milly, it’s dreadful to say, but I’d be more thankful than I can tell you, to know that he was. I shouldn’t forget he was my father’s son all the same; he should be amply provided for—amply, my dear; ah, but it’s far too good news to be true; and, besides, what would Sarah care for him, if he were illegitimate? It could not hurt us in the least. Nothing, but what would be an injury to us, can explain Sarah’s looks.{306} Don’t let us think of it any more, Milly. Come and show me, dear, what you’re going to wear to-night. I should like you to look pretty, though they are all old people; for they’re old friends as well. Come upstairs with me, and show me what you are to have on.”

I went, not without some trepidation, for I did not know what Aunt Milly would say when she knew I had nothing but white muslin. She did shake her head when she saw it spread out ready to put on. She even faltered forth some half questions as to what I had in my wardrobe, whether I had not a nice——; but there dear Aunt Milly stopped. She would not hurt my feelings whatever I might wear; and I don’t deny I felt a little mortified myself to see it laid out like a little girl’s best frock. However, I am thankful to say Harry never had an idea that it was not the very best thing I could wear.

“There are some lace flounces,” said Aunt Milly, half to herself, eyeing the poor white frock over again, “that might brighten it up a little;” then she turned round suddenly and kissed me by way of apology. “My dear, don’t be affronted, I’m sure you will look very pretty in it;—only I should have preferred, just for this one night,—but, to be sure, you never thought of bringing out all your things for such a short visit, and us such quiet people. Never mind, Milly dear, it will look very nice, I am sure. I have a very pretty scarf you shall wear thrown over it; it may not be quite in the fashion; but fine lace never goes out of fashion, you know. I mean to give it you anyhow; and here’s a little jewel-box, with some ornaments in it; I used to wear them myself when I was a girl, and I had them reset just for a little remembrance of this visit. Put them on, for my sake, to-night; and remember, dear, that what we’ve been talking about so much these few days is a family secret. If anybody should say anything that seems to touch on it, or should even mention Mr. Luigi’s name, don’t look as if you were conscious of anything. It may come to nothing, you know. I am very glad you like them, my dear. I am quite pleased I thought of it. But recollect, Milly, my love, to be on your guard.”

With these words she left me, running away from my thanks for her present. I was very much pleased with her present, and even at that moment, when people might suppose I had more serious things to think of, I must say it did give me a flutter of gratification to find bracelets in the jewel-box. How kind and thoughtful it was of Aunt Milly! I wonder if{307} she knew I hadn’t any? I showed them to Lizzie, who thought anything so grand had never been seen, and to baby, who would have liked to have them to play with, and finally to Harry when he came in, and I had to prepare for our drive. Harry found some fault (of course) with their style, but was quite as pleased as I was. And, indeed, it was very good of him to be pleased, for I had almost to go down on my knees to him to keep him from buying me something of the kind when we came to Chester, and he naturally grudged that any one should give them to me but himself.

To think of me saying so much about such a small affair as bracelets, when things so much more important were surrounding us on every side! I am afraid to say it, but it is true, that when I went down into the drawing-room that evening I was thinking too much about my beautiful scarf and these same bracelets to notice, at the first moment, who was there. The first thing that brought me to myself was hearing the voice of Miss Mortimer behind her screen. I was so amazed that, instinctively, without giving any reason to myself for it, I pushed forward to see her. There she sat, that dreadful, wonderful witch of a woman—so far from being moved by any feeling of nature which might have led her to avoid the strangers, as innocent Aunt Milly supposed—sitting there as if on a throne, entirely assuming the part of mistress of the house, and receiving the homage of her guests. Evidently everybody was surprised—everybody had understood Miss Mortimer to have withdrawn from any but the most secluded life and I do not think I ever felt such a thrill of wonder and pity, and almost horror, as when, after all I had seen and noted, after her convulsive trembling and watchful readiness for any attack, after the way in which, this very day, she had retreated, stubborn but exhausted, upstairs, I saw her sitting here, in full evening dress, with jewels and ornaments; her watchful eyes gleaming stealthily round, and her ears alive to every sound.

As I came forward I caught sight of Aunt Milly sitting silent by herself by a table, with a face full of the deepest perplexity and distress. She raised her troubled eyes to me, and grasped at my hand for a moment, as if to strengthen herself. She could not make it out—any attempt to decipher her sister’s purpose was in vain to Aunt Milly—the light might as well have tried to comprehend the darkness. But I had not time to say anything to her. Miss Mortimer had called Harry, who drew me along with him; and it was she who introduced us to{308} the rector and his sister, and to that heavy old Sir George, and the Penrhyns of Eden Castle. I am sure I cannot tell what she said; it was principally Harry she spoke of, and I remember that she called him their heir and nearest relation, which gained us a very flattering reception from the strangers. But the mere fact of seeing her there, with her bare arms and shoulders shining thin through just such another scarf as I had on, and her eyes meeting everybody else’s with a certain wide-open vigilant stare, and her head held stiffly erect to dissemble that trembling, which, even still, she could not overcome, at once confounded and engrossed me so much that I could observe nothing else. Harry got into conversation with the gentlemen, and Miss Kate, from the Rectory, a woman evidently full of curiosity and enterprise, seized upon Miss Mortimer. I managed to get away to Aunt Milly; she took my hand again, and pressed it almost painfully. “My dear, what do you suppose this means?” said Aunt Milly, looking wistfully up in my face.

“To defy everybody,” I said, scarcely knowing what I was saying; “but, dear Aunt Milly, you warned me to be on my guard. You look so troubled, people will fancy something is wrong.”

When I said that, she got up hastily and joined the others. I can’t tell how the strangers felt; but for all of us who belonged to the house, it is impossible to imagine any scene more extraordinary. To see the dauntless, unnatural wickedness of that woman facing and defying everybody—to see her take the principal place, and ignore the troubled, terrified sister, whose guests these people really were—out of all the mysterious veil of secrecy and darkness in which she had been wrapped, to watch her emerging thus, not only as if nothing were wrong with her, but as if, in reality, she was the soul of everything, and dear Aunt Milly only her shadow and servant! When Miss Mortimer took the head of the table at dinner, and Aunt Milly astonished, and not knowing what to make of it, dropped into a seat near the foot, where Harry was, our dismay and wonder were nearly at their climax. Aunt Milly clasped my hands hard; she had got a chair placed in the corner beside me, and whispered—

“I don’t mind it, my dear, don’t think I mind it. If all was well, and I had known her meaning!”

I understood that perfectly; but then all was not well, and nobody had known the weird woman’s meaning. Now she had it all in her own hands. With her grey hair, and her thin{309} bare aged shoulders peeping out of her scarf, she made a dreadful pretence of flirting with that old Sir George; and curious Miss Kate sat scrutinising her, and making perpetual remarks; and Aunt Milly and I looked on with awe and alarm which I could not describe. I could scarcely answer Mr. Penrhyn when he spoke to me. I fear he must have thought me a very poor representative of the Mortimers. But I could not keep my attention from that figure at the head of the table. I could not help wondering, did she see the writing and the man’s hand upon the wall? for in all her pretences, and affectations, and coquetries,—those strange coquetries, and gestures, and movements of the head and hands, which might have been pretty in a young beauty, but were so dismal in a white-haired old woman—remember, she never once forgot. I could see it plain in her eyes all the time. If the handwriting had come upon the wall, as it did in Belshazzar’s palace, it would not have surprised her. No allusion that could be made would shock or startle her. She knew everything that could come; and, in her devilish daring, she was prepared for all.

I hope it is not very wicked of me to use such words; indeed, I cannot tell what others I could use.

Things went on so till we got back to the drawing-room, which was a relief in its way. And by dint of continuing so long, the pressure had, of course, grown easier, and I had actually begun to make a little acquaintance with Mrs. Penrhyn, who was young, and had little children of her own, and quite insisted I should take her upstairs to see baby, when I was suddenly recalled from that very agreeable talk we were just falling into, by the sharp voice of Miss Kate.

“Have you heard any more of that young Italian, Miss Milly?” said Miss Kate; “he that struck me, you know, as having so odd a resemblance to your family?—very strange! and did you not perceive it yourself? I hear he has been seen about here again, and his servant, that stout person. Ah, how very sad he doesn’t know English, that poor fellow! perhaps he has picked up a little since. Of all the sad things in the world, I know nothing so melancholy as being in the midst of light, and yet, for such a trifling thing as the want of language, remaining in darkness. I have never forgiven myself for neglecting Italian since that day. Ah, I wish I knew Italian as you do, Miss Mortimer. Who can tell what use I might have been to that poor benighted man!”

I had turned aside, with the words stopped on my very lips,{310} to listen. So had Aunt Milly, looking aghast, and with every tinge of colour blanched from her face. Miss Mortimer did not observe me; but she noticed her sister, and stared at her with actually a little pause and smile of malice, to direct everybody’s attention to her startled face, before she spoke.

“I can’t speak even my own language now,” was all Miss Mortimer said; and all the time looked at Aunt Milly with that derisive look, as if to show that whoever was agitated by this reference it was not herself. I was so wicked as to think she meant to turn over the scandal, if any should rise, upon her sister; and it made my blood boil; but, to be sure, I was quite in error there.

“Oh, I am sure after to-night—!” cried Miss Kate; “Indeed, my dear Miss Mortimer, I must congratulate you. I hope it is the beginning of a new life. If you would but take a little interest in the parish, with your improved health, I am sure it would do so much good; and if you should happen to meet that unfortunate young man, and would be induced to explain the truth to him a little in his own language——”

Here Miss Mortimer gave an extraordinary kind of gasp, without, however, uttering any sound. Nobody observed it but me, as my eyes were fixed on her. Then she spoke as if she could not help herself, drawing back into the shadow.

“He speaks English!” she said, with an extraordinary tone of being compelled to say something—as if some influence within her had constrained the words from her unwilling tongue.

“But, ah, it is the servant I speak of,” cried Miss Kate; “one soul is just as precious as another; it is he, poor unfortunate man! If you should meet him in any of your drives,—he is very stout, and has a large beard, and is so completely the foreigner that you can’t mistake him,—if you would only stop the carriage and say a word in season.”

There was another wonderful contraction of all the muscles of Miss Mortimer’s face, and this time a kind of hysterical sound came with it.

“If I meet him,” she said, slowly, “I’ll give him a word in season—don’t be afraid,” and she laughed.

It made me shiver and tremble all over. I was thankful that Ellis came that moment with tea, and I could get up and go into another corner of the room to recover myself. I don’t know how Aunt Milly bore it. She had not a particle of{311} colour in her face the whole evening after. But Miss Mortimer went upstairs steadily when all the guests were gone. I do not know what befell when she got into her own room. I do not think they had much rest there that night. If she had fallen down in a fit, or expired at the head of the table that evening, it would not have surprised me. She had lived through it; but I am sure neither she nor her poor faithful maid closed their eyes that night.{312}

Chapter XI.

THE day after that, was the day we had fixed to go back to Chester. Miss Mortimer did not come downstairs; but Carson came to me with a little packet while I was helping Lizzie to pack up baby’s things. The poor woman looked ill and strange herself. She had a scared terrified expression, as if she were afraid of everybody, and looked so worn-out and exhausted that I could scarcely help telling her, for pity’s sake, to go and get some sleep.

“My missis sends her love,” said Carson, “and she’s very sorry she can’t come downstairs to see you, ma’am, nor the Captain, but hopes it won’t be long till you’re here again; and sends you this, and her love.”

“Is Miss Mortimer ill?” said I.

Carson hesitated before she answered.

“It’s on her nerves,” she said, at last, faltering; “it’s—I mean, to be sure, she’s a little overtired because of overdoing of herself last night. It was out of compliment to the Captain, ma’am, and you. My missis has a great spirit; but it’s the body as is weak.”

“Yes,” said I, unable to restrain the impulse; “but, oh, don’t you think she has just too great a spirit? What if it kills her one of these days?”

The woman flashed up for a moment into an attempt of resentment and dignity, but, partly from her weakness and watching and want of sleep, broke down immediately, and shed a few tears in her apron. The poor creature’s heart was moved. “If it kills her she’ll die; but she’ll never give in,” sobbed Carson; and then, recovering herself all at once—“it’s on the nerves, that’s what it is,” said the faithful servant, and hurried away.

It was some time before I cared to open Miss Mortimer’s packet. It contained two rings, one of them a slight turquoise thing, which was for me, and the other a fine diamond, which{313} was to be given to my husband. “Tell him it’s a family jewel,” said a little accompanying note. I put it down on Harry’s dressing-table, where he would find it when he came in. I would not put such a present on his finger; besides, it was best he should have it direct from herself—she had always received him as the representative of the Mortimers, and not me.

And then Aunt Milly came upstairs to kiss and cry over us. I was very sad myself, as was natural. There was nothing now between me and Harry’s going, but a few weeks—rather a few days. I should look straight into the face of that dreadful approaching moment when we turned our backs on the Park.

I could not cry as Aunt Milly did. I felt to myself as if I had been trifling all this time, taken up with other people’s affairs, and making friends with strangers, while every hour was bringing us closer to that day. Dear Aunt Milly held me fast in her arms, and whispered everything in the world she could think of to console me: that I had baby; that I should have letters regularly; that the war would not last long; that I must trust God, and pray. Ah, as if I did not know all that! if I had not known it and gone over it all in my own mind a thousand times, there might have been some comfort in what she said.

“And look here,” said Aunt Milly, thrusting a purse into my pocket—not into my hand, to give me a chance of putting it back again—“he is our representative, dear. He is not to go a step till he has everything—everything you can so much as think upon to make him comfortable. Now, Milly, don’t say a word. I’ll think you don’t love me if you say a word. Will it be any comfort to you, or me, to think here’s some paltry money left, and Harry gone to fight for us all without something that would make him comfortable? You’d work your fingers off to get it for him, and you have no excuse for denying me. Don’t say anything to Harry, child. Men don’t understand these things. It’s between you and me; and, please God, we’ll tell him all our schemes when we get him back safe, the dear fellow. But, dear, what is that on the table? Sarah’s diamond! that one she has always had such a fancy for. Has she sent it to you?”

“To Harry,” said I.

“To Harry! Dear, dear, what creatures we are!” cried Aunt Milly, much agitated, and bursting in tears again. “Poor Sarah! she’s not so hard-hearted as you and me were thinking,{314} Milly. Oh, God help her; if He would only bring her to deal true and fair, and have out this trouble in the face of day, there might be some comfort yet for her in this very life!”

I made no answer. I did not love Miss Mortimer, as I suppose, in some sort of way, her sister did; and, besides, my thoughts were all turned in another direction again. I had ceased to see the Park and its troubles so acutely as I had done for some days past. My mind was returned to my own private burden. I had little to say to anybody after that. I turned away even from Aunt Milly, with a dreadful feeling that I was not to see her again till Harry was gone. For I knew in my heart, though they never said anything to me, that this was how it was to be.

I had not the heart to talk even to Harry, as we drove slowly back to Chester—slowly, as I fancied. We went in the carriage all the way. We had no railway or tunnel to go through this time. Nothing to help me to a moment’s delusion of plunging away to the end of the world, or into the bowels of the earth, it did not matter which, all together. That was impossible. Miss Mortimer’s carriage put nothing in my mind but the inevitable parting, and all that was to happen to me after Harry was gone.

When we got to our Chester lodgings, Domenico was there, as usual, full of the noisiest, kindest bustle, to help in getting everything in, as if he had belonged to us, instead of belonging to a stranger, who, most likely, had little reason to bear the heirs of the Mortimers any good will. Mr. Luigi was standing at the window all the time, looking at the carriage, the horses, the servants; thinking, perhaps, they might all have been his under different circumstances. How can I tell what he was thinking? I am sure at that moment, though I observed him at the window, I took no pains to imagine what his thoughts were, and did not care. I did not care for anything just then.

It was one of my bad times. It was one of the hundred partings which I had with Harry before the real parting came. When the things were lifted out of the carriage, I could see them all in my own mind lifted in again, all but Harry’s share of them, and myself sitting blind in that corner with all the world dark before me. Well, well; it is no use reasoning over it, as if that would make things any better. Thousands and thousands were just the same as me; did that make it any better, do you suppose? I thought of the poor woman in the{315} Edinburgh High Street, and her hard damp hand that pressed mine. I was a soldier’s wife like all the rest. I went up into my own room and got Harry’s old sash again, and bound it tight over my heart. It gave me a kind of ease, somehow. And to hear baby shouting at sight of his old toys, and Harry calling for his Milly darling, downstairs! It was an agony of happiness and anguish; it was life.{316}

Chapter XII.

THE very next day Sara Cresswell came to see me. I cannot say that I was very glad, for I grudged everything now that did not belong to the one business which was engrossing us. I had been out that morning with Harry trying to get things that were necessary for him. I don’t mean the common articles of his outfit, for these, now that we had money enough, could be ordered at once without contriving; but the little conveniences that might make him more comfortable. He protested that I would load him with so many contrivances for comfort that comfort would be impossible; and, I daresay I was foolish. But he let me do it without more than just laughing at me. He knew it was a sort of consolation. When Sara came the room was in a litter with all sorts of portable apparatus; things for cooking, and lamps, and portable dressing things, and the wonderful convenient portmanteaus they make now-a-days. I was putting them all together, and comparing, and thinking all how he would do when, instead of home, where everything came naturally, without being asked for, he should have only these skeletons to make himself comfortable with. I had lighted the lamp, and was boiling the little kettle over it, to see how it would do. Ah, if we only had been going all together! If I could have imagined myself there to boil the kettle and have everything warm and nice for him when he came in from the trenches, how pleasant all these contrivances would have been! As it was I had just had his servant up and been showing him the things we had bought; he looking grim and half amused, touching his cap and saying, “Yes, ma’am,” to every word I said, but laughing in his mind at all my womanish nonsense. I could see that perfectly, and I had a good cry after the man was gone; and was just rousing up from that, to boil the little kettle, when Sara Cresswell came in.

In this short week there was a good deal of change upon Sara. Her eyes had a quick kind of fitful light in them gleaming about everywhere, as if she were somehow dissatisfied, either with herself or her own circumstances, and sought a kind{317} of relief in external things. There was a change in her appearance too; her little short curls had either grown too long to cluster about her neck as she had worn them, or she had taken another caprice about this fashion of hers, for they were now all gathered into a net, a thing which changed her appearance, somehow, without one being able to see for the first minute how it was. She flushed up wonderfully when she saw my occupation. She came and kissed me, and sat down by me to watch the lamp. I had to explain to her all about it, how it was arranged, and everything; and after she had sat with me watching till the little kettle boiled, all at once it seemed to flash upon her what dreadful thing was implied to me in that little apparatus, and she suddenly looked up in my face and took hold of my hand, and burst out crying. I gave way just for one moment too, but even her presence and her sympathy kept me from breaking down altogether. But it warmed my heart to Sara to see her crying for my trouble. I took the little teapot out of the place it was fitted into and made some tea, and gave her some without saying anything. We sat by the table where that little lamp was still burning, throwing the steady, cheerful little flame that showed so strange in the daylight, upon us. We drank that tea together without saying anything, till Sara, not being able to contain herself, her heart quite running over with pity for me, took the cup out of my hand and threw her arms round me. “We shall be sisters while he is away!” cried Sara, not knowing what to say to comfort me. I don’t think I said anything; but we were real fast friends from that day.

“But I must have everything cleared away now, before Harry comes in,” said I; “he must not see all this litter we have been making. He thinks me foolish enough already. Go into the other room, Sara dear, and take a book and wait for me. Lizzie is out with baby. I’ll come to you presently.”

“As if I could not help!” cried Sara, dashing the tears away off her cheek. “Why, oh, Milly, why won’t people let us women do what we were born to? This is twenty times pleasanter than going into the other room and taking a book.”

And so, I daresay, it was. When everything was tidy we did go into the other room. Sara sat near the window, where she could see out without being seen herself. I took up some of Harry’s things that I had begun to make before Aunt Milly’s money came. I would have made them every one myself if I could, but that, to be sure, was impossible; and what a comfort{318} it was to think he would have such a good supply of everything; but still it was a pleasure to me to have that work. We sat talking for some time about other things, about the Park, and Aunt Milly, and Miss Mortimer, but without touching upon anything but the surface,—how I liked them, and all that,—till at last Sara gave a little start and exclamation, and put her hands together. It was something she saw in the street. I rose to look over her shoulder what it was.

“There is Mr. Langham and Mr. Luigi,” cried Sara. “What can they be talking about? Are they coming in, I wonder? How earnest they both look! Now they are turning back again. Oh, Milly, tell me, please! what are they talking about?”

“How can I possibly tell you?” said I; but I suppose there was a little faltering and consciousness in my tone.

Sara sat watching for some time longer. “They walk up and down, quite engrossed in their conversation,” said Sara; “when they reach the end of the pavement, they turn back again, up and down, up and down. Now Mr. Langham seems urging something upon him—now he turns away, he clasps his hands together, he appeals to Mr. Langham. What is it? what is it all about? I never can persuade him to tell me. How does he belong to the Park or the Mortimers? Why are they frightened for him? Oh, Milly, you who have just come from them, tell me what it is? I am not asking from vain curiosity—I—I—I have a right——”

Here Sara stopped, overcome with agitation. I was close behind her. I could not help growing agitated too.

“Sara, tell me!” I cried; “we are both motherless creatures, and you have nobody to guide you. Tell me; you call him he, you don’t say his name. What is he to you?”

Sara turned back and leant her head upon me, and fell into a passion of tears again;—different tears—tears for herself, and out of the anguish of her heart. She was doing wrong—she knew she was doing wrong—she had gone on with it wilfully, knowing it was wrong all the time; and now she had gone too far to draw back.

“Oh, Milly, Milly, papa does not know!” she cried, in such a tone of misery. And, indeed, I don’t wonder. How could she look him in the face knowing how fond of her he was?

“But, Sara, this is dreadfully wrong of Mr. Luigi,” cried I; “he ought to know better; he should at least have gone to Mr. Cresswell. It is his fault.”

“Was it your Harry’s fault?” cried Sara, starting up in my{319} face, all flushed and glowing. “Should he have gone directly and told everybody? And you were married, married, Milly!—and ever such a time before it was found out. How can you pretend to be so shocked at me?”

To see her spring up, all blushing and beautiful, and determined as she was—she who had been sobbing on my shoulder a moment before, took me entirely by surprise. I retreated a step before her. I could not tell what answer to make. She was not ashamed, the little darling creature! She was ready to stand up for him against all the world.

“It was not my good father that loved me, it was only my aunt,” I said, faltering; “and, besides, it was I who should have told her; and as for Harry—Harry——”

“He is no better than Luigi!” cried Sara; “he ought to have gone and told and asked for you. You know he should; and you were married, actually married, and oh, Milly, can you really venture to scold me?”

“If I had nothing else to excuse me I was ashamed, at least,” said I, a little sharply.

“I am not ashamed of Lewis!” cried the little girl, stamping her little foot and clasping her hands together. When her courage deserted her, she came and nestled into my side again, and clasped her arms tight and cried. What was to be done? for whatever I might have done myself, I could not be an accessory to Sara’s secret, to break her kind father’s heart.

“But tell me who he is? What is Mr. Langham speaking to him about?” whispered Sara at last.

“Has he not told you who he is?”

“Only that soon he will be able to come to papa and tell him everything, but that his duty to somebody prevents him speaking now, till he has permission,” said Sara, under her breath. “I am not excusing him,” she went on, lifting up her head. “As you say, it was my part to tell papa; and it was only just the other day that—that—there was anything to tell. We have not been going on making it up for a long time. We have not been keeping it secret for months, like some people.”

“Sara, hush,” said I; “you know quite well your case and mine are not alike; but, at any rate, I am older and wiser now. Must I, or must Harry, go and tell your father?”

Sara looked at me with a degree of affectionate spite and wickedness I never saw equalled. “You would, you treacherous, perfidious creature!” she cried, flinging away from me; “but Mr. Langham wouldn’t!—you need not think it. You will have to go yourself; and papa will think we have had a{320} quarrel, and won’t believe you. Ah, Milly! here they are coming back. Tell me what Mr. Langham was saying to him? Tell me what it all is?”

If I had known ever so well what to tell her, and been as willing as I was able, I would have been prevented by Harry’s coming in. He was looking grave and perplexed. His interview with Luigi had not satisfied him, any more than such a conversation had satisfied anybody else who approached the Italian. Sara stopped short with the most violent blush on her face when she saw him. She withdrew from me, and got into a corner. She went to the window, and pretended to be looking out very earnestly. She answered Harry’s salutation only over my shoulder. The next moment she came whispering to me that it was time for her to go. Evidently, however much she encouraged herself by our example, she could not face Harry. She whispered, “Don’t tell!” and clenched her little fist at me as she went away. Of course I only laughed at her; but it appeared I did not need to tell Harry. He came upstairs, after seeing her out, with a smile on his face.

“Has she been telling you what trouble she has got herself into? Oh, don’t betray her secret,” said Harry. “I have just heard it from the other side. Here are other two fools following our example, Milly. What is to be done for them? It is worse, you know, in their case, as I took pains to show Luigi. Mr. Cresswell is a different person from Aunt Connor; and we two were equal in our poverty. I don’t approve,” said Harry, with a laugh mingling in his gravity, “of such a thing as this.”

“And what did he say?” said I, thinking, no doubt, that my Harry’s wisdom had made the Italian ashamed of himself.

Harry laughed again, but grew rather red. “Word for word what I used to say when I was explaining to myself why I did not go and ask you from your Aunt Connor. I hope they’ll have as good an issue as we have had, Milly, darling,” said Harry, “But here’s some extraordinary mistake again. Either we’re mistaken in our guess, which I can’t think possible, or poor Luigi’s dreadfully mistaken in the laws of England and of civilised life. Perhaps he thinks our being Protestants makes an end of law. I can’t tell what he thinks, nor what to think of the whole concern. He refuses my mediation, Milly; at least he tells me I am wrong.”

“Wrong in what particular?” I asked eagerly.

Harry shook his head. “I can’t tell; but he will not hear of any compensation, or of giving up his pursuit of that poor old{321} lady. When he saw what I meant he grew very hot and angry, and asked if I meant to insult him, but afterwards said to himself, ‘It is in ignorance,’ with a sort of magnanimity which would be simply ridiculous according to my notion of the affair. They’ll have it out their own way, Milly. We can’t interfere, that’s clear; only I wish there was some light thrown upon it,” said Harry, “before I went away, that I might know what your fortune is likely to be. What would you say if this grand Park of yours turned out to be no inheritance for us at all?”

“I should not break my heart; but what could he have to do with the Park?” cried I. “If he were Mr. Mortimer’s son, why should Miss Mortimer be so troubled about it? and how could he, if he is Miss Mortimer’s——”

“Hush, Milly; we don’t know anything about it. Let’s talk of our own concerns,” said Harry, with a sigh. These words plunged me back again into the mood from which Sara had roused me. The other things went like shadows—this was the real life which belonged to us.{322}

Chapter XIII.

I DON’T remember very well after that how these outside affairs went on. I used to see them both, of course. Sara came to me almost every day, and sometimes helped with my work, and sometimes played with baby, and sometimes would read aloud to me when Harry was out. She meant it very well and was very good, and a comfort, as much as that was possible. I remember being glad when she read, and did not talk, for then I was free to my own thoughts. I daresay, thinking it over since, that it must have been the fascination of seeing her constantly, which for that interval took precedence of everything in Luigi’s mind, and kept him inactive; for I heard from Aunt Milly that he had not been to the Park again, nor heard of in any way, so far as she knew. And Miss Mortimer had been ailing too, and had very bad nights, and had been a whole week that she did not come downstairs. I heard all these things at the time without taking any notice of them. Harry, after finding himself so unsuccessful with Luigi, had given it all up; and we were both too much occupied with our own concerns to think of anything else. We did not talk much of what was to happen when he was gone. It had come to be tacitly concluded that I was to go with Aunt Milly; and, I suppose, that thought that crossed Harry’s mind after his conversation with Luigi,—“What if the Park should turn out to be no inheritance of ours after all?”—had passed away again as it came. I can’t say I ever thought of the Park at that time one way or another; and I am sure what Harry was glad for me to have, was not the prospect of a great fortune, but the presence of a dear friend.

One day he rode out to see Aunt Milly, and take leave of her. He saw them both, he told me, but nothing passed that I cared to inquire into. We had a great deal to do, which helped us to pull through these days. It was such a difficulty to get those things which I had collected, packed. Harry’s{323} servant came, and puffed and scratched his head over them, and poor Domenico came up to help; and what with his broad laughs and pantomime, and his determination to get everything in, and his cheerfulness over all his failures, and the ludicrous way in which he and Thomson addressed each other, each in his own language, and abused each other too, even I was obliged to laugh, and the assistants were all kept in good-humour. I felt as if it had been very dark all these days—often raining, always cloudy, the streets muddy and uncomfortable, and the air stifling. I can’t tell whether it was so in reality, but it certainly seemed so to me.

Then the very last day came. Harry was specially busy all that day; there were all the men to look after, and he was acting adjutant. I went out by myself to see whether I could not find anything else he might want. It was very fatiguing walking—I suppose it was a rainy day. When I came in I felt very faint, and sat down in a chair in the hall for an instant to recover myself. I can’t tell how Luigi knew that I was there; but he came out to the door of his room, and stood looking at me for a moment. I got up, being jealous that anybody should see me break down, just then; but he held up his hand as if to beg me to stay.

“May I say how I think of you?” he said. “Just now you are never out of my mind, you and that brave Langham. Patience, patience! such men come back—they come back!”

“Oh, hush, hush, hush!” I cried. I could say nothing more, and pressed past him to go upstairs.

He put his hand on mine when I laid it on the rail of the stairs, detaining me. “We are cousins,” he said, softly; “do not put me away. In my country we say cousin-brother—it does not matter, it is the same. I will be your brother if you will let me. Tell him. I am not to be ashamed of; he knows not; but if she will not do what is right, soon all the world must know. I am your brother, at your disposition. Say it to him. I will not come to say farewell to disturb you—but tell him; he shall trust me, and you may want a brother; we are of one blood.”

“Oh, let me go!” I cried. “I can’t ask you how this is. I can’t thank you, though I am sure it is kindness. I can’t think of anything to-day; let me go.”

Luigi kissed my hand, and let me go. It startled me very much for the moment. I rushed upstairs, feeling as if he had been rude to me;—but indeed he had not been rude to me, nor anything the least like it. But it startled me into{324} realizing all that was going to happen. That I should be alone as to-morrow. I remember running and clutching at the blinds which were down, and drawing them up with great haste, and almost passion. It seemed to me as if that dim light were predicting something; as if the furniture standing about was looking on, and knew what was going to be. Now the time was come; I had gone over it and over it in my fancy; this would be the last of my rehearsals; to-morrow Harry would be away.

And the to-morrow came, as they always do. I did not feel in the least diminished in my strength. I did not feel I had any body at all that morning. I went with him to the railway steadily, you may suppose. I would not lose a moment of the time we were to be together in any folly about myself. I remember him saying something about me going home alone, and all that, as men will do. But I did not lose sight of him till the last moment when the train disappeared into the tunnel; and I can’t tell how long I stood there watching, after it had vanished into that darkness. Now he was gone! Another train came up, and the crowd disturbed me standing there all by myself. I did not feel as if it were true; but I went away all the same. I said to myself, over and over again, “He is gone;” but it did me no good. I went out of the railway not believing in it. Outside there was a cab waiting for me. But Domenico rushed forward to open the door, and somehow they had contrived that Lizzie and baby should be there to take me home. I heard afterwards that Luigi and Domenico were both watching close by all the time, in case I should faint, or something. I suppose they thought I would faint, not knowing any better. Lizzie’s great eyes, panic-struck, gazing in my face, full of tears that she durst not let fall, struck me quite strangely when I got into the cab; and then little Harry stretched out his arms to me—and then——. But even at the worst it was not so dreadful as I thought it would be. I was not sitting blind and desperate, with all the world dark before me. No, no; and God forgive me for thinking I should. Harry was living and well, and gone to do his duty; and this was his boy smiling in my face, and the sun was shining——. And I had to live, and to be patient, and to pray.

When we got home, Aunt Milly’s kind face, anxiously gazing out of the window, was the first thing I saw. She came running downstairs to take me in her arms; she seemed to think it strange I could walk in so steadily, and did not want any{325} support. Sara was upstairs too. I have no doubt it was kind, the kindest thing possible; but I felt dreadfully fatigued, somehow, with that morning’s work. I could have liked to have been by myself a little. I went to my own room to put off my bonnet, and sat down with a kind of pang of comfort. I thought I was glad it was over; and then my eye fell on Harry’s old scarf—and somehow the silence came ringing about my ears with no “Milly, darling!” sounding through it: and I began to see it was true, and he was away.

When Aunt Milly came stealing into the room after me, she dropped down by my side where I was kneeling, and put her kind arms round my waist. “Yes, dear, cry!” said Aunt Milly, “it will do you good!” But I did not cry after that—I was better. I was glad it was over now.

We waited till we had a message by the telegraph to say the ship was just sailing out of the Mersey; for Harry had stopped with me till the very last moment. And then we went away. I remember everything so clearly that happened that day. I remember how the sun kept shining, and how they all looked at me as if I had been ill, and had to be watched and cared for at every step. It was all very new to me. In the hall, as we were going away, Luigi came up to me again. Aunt Milly had made me take her arm; not that I needed it, but she seemed to think I ought to need it. Luigi came and took my hand. “Remember!” he said, “I am your brother, at your disposition, till he comes back.” I don’t think I made him any answer; for the very sight of him made Aunt Milly tremble. He went out after us to put us into the carriage, and somehow managed to do it, though Aunt Milly was afraid of him. He put her in last of all, and kissed her hand. Aunt Milly did not say anything to me for a long time after. She kept gazing out of the carriage windows as long as she could see Luigi; and I have a kind of consciousness that he stood there, with his hat off, as long as we could be seen on the road. For the moment she had returned into her own trouble and forgotten mine. I leaned out of the other window, and felt the wind on my face. Ah, God send the winds were safe upon the sea! He was gone—really gone. I was not even to hear of him for a long time; and when I was to see him, God knew alone. I was swept out of his sight, and he out of mine, as if we did not belong to each other. There was only One now, in heaven or earth, that at the same moment could see him and me. When I thought of that it melted all my heart. Our Father, the only father we two had, saw us both, with no boundaries between{326} us—all that time when I could neither see nor hear of Harry, God was my link to my husband. He knew. We were both in His eye if we were worlds asunder. There, we were near to each other, however else we might be separate. The impression came so strong upon me that for a moment I could not say I was less than glad. No distance in the world, though it put us for a time out of sight of each other, could ever put us out of the sight of God.{327}

Chapter XIV.

NOBODY will be surprised when I say, that, after this, things got into their usual way very soon, and that when the event was over, everything subsided round it, and soon Aunt Milly began to forget that I was the invalid (in spirit) whom she had taken such tender care of, and brought back all her budget of perplexities and troubles to pour them into my ear; and after a day or two’s retirement in my own room, which was an ease to me, I went downstairs and about, and took a share in everything. Miss Mortimer had got better of her illness, if illness it was. She sat within the screen as usual, doing her knitting, and not taking much notice of anybody. I don’t know whether she had really suffered in her health, but it seemed to me that she got thinner, and that sometimes there was a gleam of fiery restrained excitement in her eyes, which were rather cold eyes by nature. We were told that she still had very bad nights; and I am sure, two or three times when I met poor Carson by accident, it took all my self-control to keep me from speaking to her, and begging her to deliver herself, somehow, from this dreadful yoke. I never saw exhaustion and a kind of weak despair so written upon anybody’s face. These bad nights, whatever they might be to the mistress, must have been murderous work to the poor maid.

“My dear,” said Aunt Milly, “I shall never forget that young man’s look as he put me into the carriage, and kissed my hand.” Aunt Milly held out her plump soft hand as she spoke, and looked at it. “They have a habit of doing so, these Italians. But if you will believe me, Milly, it was actually an affectionate look the poor young fellow gave me; and I have never asked you what he meant; he was your brother, he said. My dear, what did he mean? Ah, I remember how disappointed I was to find that he was not your brother, and Richard Mortimer’s son. That would have been such a happy solution of everything! but tell me why he called himself your brother? Was it only sympathy, Milly?”

“He said we were of the same blood; he said we were relations,” said I, with some hesitation.{328}

The book she had been reading fell out of Aunt Milly’s hand. “Relations!” she cried, faltering and growing pale; “then, Milly, there can be no doubt at all about it. Milly, I tell you he must be my father’s son; how could you be relations? And indeed, indeed,” cried Aunt Milly, growing more and more agitated, “I can’t bear this any longer. Now you are with me to support me, I must take it into my own hands. I will go and write to him this moment, and ask him down here to clear it all up. Don’t say anything—I must do it; it is impossible to go on living in this way.”

“But Miss Mortimer?” said I.

“Miss Mortimer?” cried Aunt Milly, with a little scream, that was almost hysterical, “what can my sister Sarah have to do with it? It is no harder upon her than it is upon me. If he is my father’s son, how can she be mixed up in it? And how can you and he be relations unless he is my father’s son? Don’t speak to me, Milly. He shall come here and tell it all, and at least we shall know what there is to fear.”

“But if she were too much excited it might make her ill,” said I, dreading that visit, without knowing anything to say against it.

“I can’t help it!” cried Aunt Milly, “I am desperate. Think of living and enjoying what doesn’t belong to you! Oh, Milly, Milly! what do you think I must do? I never was in secrets and mysteries before; it’s dreadful to me; and Sarah would not yield to tell what she’s kept hidden so long, not for her life. We’ll see how she looks to-night. I did not think she looked any worse than usual. I would not hurt her, you may be sure, not for any relief to myself; but we can’t go on with this hanging over us, Milly,” she said, with faltering lips. “I’ll write to-morrow; I certainly will write to-morrow. Relations! My dear, dear child, it will be a dreadful disappointment to you; but that is as good as proof.”

Poor Aunt Milly! she was desperate, as she said; and what good it would do writing, or asking, or even demanding anything, that one of the people who knew it would guard at the cost of her life, and the other would disclose only at his own time, I could not see. Luigi had refused to tell her already; he would not tell Sara Cresswell. He was waiting a permission that never, never in this world would be given. And he, too, must be deluded. What could he think our laws or our principles were if he could have any rights, but those of shame? It was all a mystery; I could see that Aunt Milly’s idea was quite a false one. But I dared not tell her that idea{329} of my own, which, perhaps, for anything I knew, might prove as false as hers.

That morning I went out with Lizzie and my boy. He could walk now along the sunny road holding my finger, and trot after his own little shadow, and try to catch the motes in the sunshine, as I suppose all babies do—but, to be sure, it is just as original and strange in every child that does it, for all that. I was walking by him, very tranquil and even contented in my mind. There had been very quiet weather; and little Harry was so well and so beautiful; and I felt so much more as if I could trust my Harry himself in God’s hands without trembling for him every moment, that my heart opened out a little to the beautiful day. I don’t know that I should have borne to see Domenico, much less to speak to him, but for that——

For there was Domenico, unmistakably, on the edge of the common. He was dressed in a white linen suit, all white, as if he wanted to make his enormous bulk and his black beard as remarkable as possible in this beardless and sober-minded country. It was warm weather now, and I daresay he thought the hot summer was coming as in his own home. Baby, with whom he had always been a favourite, gave a little shout at sight of him, and tottered forward a step or two. Of course Domenico’s hat had been in his hand from the first moment he saw me. He threw it down on the grass now, and seized little Harry, and tossed him up in his arms. I was afraid of this play, but my brave boy was not; he actually boxed at Lizzie with his little fists when I begged Domenico to set him down.

“Pardon,” said Domenico; “I—me—make demand of the signora, pardon—it pleases to the piccolo signorino beebee. I—Domenico—here—this,” said the great fellow, punching his breast, that I might be quite sure of the person he meant, “take joy in heart for see the signora another time.”

“Thank you, Domenico,” said I. “I shall never forget how kind you have been. What is it that brings you here?”

Domenico pointed round to various points of the compass, not seeming sure which to fix upon, and then burst into a great laugh at himself. “It pleases to the signora to pardon,” said Domenico; “when not to have the book not clevare to make the speak. Here is the master of me.”

“Your master, Domenico?—where?” cried I.

Once more Domenico looked round to all the points of the compass. “He here—he here—puff—Ecco!—he move far away—to make the time go. Here my master come to make{330} the visit—the signora not to know the other signora? Yes, yes; in that large big palazzo of not any colour. Behold! The my master there go.”

“Who is he going to see there?” asked I, with some anxiety.

Domenico held up his hand with many elaborate gestures of caution and silence. Then he bent his enormous person forward and stooped to my ear. When he spoke it was in a whisper. “It is need to speak silent—silent! The signora contessa,” said Domenico, with half-important, half-guilty air of one who communicates a secret. I drew back from him in utter bewilderment—what could he mean?

“There is no contessa there, Domenico,” said I, in my ordinary tone; “your master is deceived.”

Domenico held up his hand with an evident entreaty that I would be cautious. Then he looked back upon Lizzie, the only person in sight. “I not fear for the Lizzie,” said Domenico; and then launched forth into a half-whispered description of the contessa, whoever that might be. But I confess that Domenico’s description, being Italian whenever he warmed, and only when he slackened and recollected himself falling into such English as he was capable of, was difficult to make out. I fully entered into Lizzie’s feeling, that it was “awfu’ fickle to ken what he meant when it was a long story.” I remained profoundly bewildered, and unable to make out one word in ten.

As for learning anything about the contessa—poor fellow!—or, rather, it was his master that was to be pitied—evidently here was some new mistake, some additional impediment to the finding out of this mystery. I left Lizzie with little Harry on the common, and went rather sadly home. This little bit of apparent foolishness naturally set me all astray as to the mysterious business which had cost us so much thought. Was it a mistake of Domenico’s perhaps? for Luigi and Miss Mortimer had actually met, and there could be no mistake there.

When I looked back that great white apparition was keeping Lizzie company on the common. They were a strange couple; but I cannot say I had any such doubts or fears concerning Domenico’s attendance, as a proper mistress ought to have had. I flattered myself Lizzie was a great deal too young to take any harm. She stood with her red-brown hair a little blown about her eyes: her clear, sanguine complexion, her angular and still awkward figure, looking up at the man-monster beside her, and holding up her hand to shade her eyes from the sun, which was{331} shining in her face. While Domenico, with all his great proportions expanded by his white dress, impended over her, his smiling mouth opening in the midst of his black beard, an outre extraordinary foreign figure, enough to drive any staid English village out of its propriety. I remember the picture they made as distinctly as possible, with the green common surrounding them, and the gorse bushes all bursting into flower; and my own beautiful baby tottering about the fragrant grass. I was quite secure in Lizzie’s love and Domenico’s kindness. I went away with a smile at the curious group upon that soft English common—both figures alien to the soil—and with a tenderness in my breast to them both. Domenico had made himself well understood in another language, if not in that of ordinary spoken communications. I shall always have a kindness to his whole nation for that good fellow’s sake.

As I paused at the gate of the Park, I saw another figure advancing by an opposite road. I recognised Luigi in a moment. He was coming hurriedly down between the green hedges, no doubt coming to pay that visit of which Domenico had warned me. I rushed in, with all the eagerness of a child, to get my bonnet off and be in the drawing-room before he came.{332}

Chapter XV.

WHEN I reached the drawing-room, after throwing off my bonnet and arranging my hair in the most breathless haste, terrified to hear the summons at the door before I was downstairs, I was thunderstruck to find Sara Cresswell there. The sight of her made an end of my awkward feeling of shame for my own haste and curiosity. Surely this was nothing less than a crisis that was coming. Sara had just arrived, and was explaining the reasons for her visit in such a very fluent and demonstrative way, that I could see at once they were all made up, and some motive entirely different from those she mentioned had brought her. She was still in her hat and velvet jacket, seated rather on the edge of her chair, talking very volubly, but looking breathless and anxious, while Aunt Milly, who was sitting in her own place, opposite her sister, and near the fireplace, looked at her, perplexed and uncertain, evidently rather suspicious of the many motives which had procured us this visit; which, if Sara had only said nothing about it, would have been received as a delightful surprise, and wanted no accounting for. It was evidently a great relief to Sara when I came in; she came to kiss me, turning her face away from Aunt Milly, and caught hold of me so tight, and gave me such a troubled, emphatic look, that even if I had not heard before, I should have known something was coming. I stood by her breathless for a moment, wondering why the door-bell did not ring,—Luigi had certainly had abundant time to have got to the door,—and then went up to the other end of the room on pretence of finding my work; while Sara, instead of following me, dropped into her chair again, evidently too nervous, too anxious, too eager to see the first of it and lose nothing, to do anything but sit still. We were both traitors and plotters. She had come to watch something that was about to happen, but which the principal person concerned did not know. While I, more cruel still, took my trembling way up to the other end of the apartment, and stationed myself behind Aunt Milly, that I might not lose a look or word from Miss Mortimer. I{333} felt ashamed of myself, but I could not help it. I felt a kind of conviction that this was to be the decisive day.

But still there was no sound at the door; there was time to look round all the peaceable vast room, and be struck by the quietness, the repose of the scene in which some act of this mysterious drama was about to be enacted. It was always very light here, but the bright day and the sunshine out of doors, made it now even lighter than usual, and refused to any of us the slightest shade for our faces, whatever undue expression might come to them. Sara had adopted the only expedient possible, by turning her back upon the light, and had, besides, a little shelter in her hat. But dear Aunt Milly, looking at her favourite with a troubled inquiring expression, and laying down the work she had in hand in order to examine Sara’s countenance the better, was so fully set forth in all her looks, movements, and almost feelings, by that broad clear day-light, that I shrank back from it in spite of myself, fearing that it would betray me too. The only shadow in the room was that afforded by Miss Mortimer’s screen. She sat there just as usual, in her violet-coloured dress, her light muslin embroidered scarf, worn without any lining, now that the weather was warm, and her pretty cap, with ribbons corresponding to her dress; her head moving so slightly that it was difficult to perceive the motion; her pattern-book open on her knee, her head bent over it. At this moment, when the thunders of Providence were just about to break over her, she sat there, with her head over her knitting-book, counting her stitches, and trying a new pattern. When I saw how she was occupied, my own trembling pretence at work fell from my hands. I gazed at her openly with a wonder which was almost awe. My heart cried out against her in her dread composure. The Avenger was coming, and there she sat, all conscious, aware, in every nerve, of her guilt, and yet able to maintain that hideous calm. Yes! it would have been sublime had she been a good woman, threatened by some undeserved doom. I declare it was ghastly, devilish, dreadful to me!

All this time nobody came to the door. I daresay, perhaps, it was not very many minutes after all; but in the excitement and suspense it seemed a very long time to me. And either the house was specially quiet, or there was something in my agitated condition which made me think so. Miss Mortimer never lifted her head; if she had not been so engaged with her pattern, surely she would have noticed the perplexed looks of Aunt Milly, and my excited face. But she did not, she kept{334} working on at her new stitch. We all relapsed into perfect silence; Sara’s voluble excuses for herself died all at once off her lips. Aunt Milly dropped into a strange anxious silence, looking at her. As for myself, I could not have spoken a word whatever had been the consequences. Sara’s nervous motion of her foot on the carpet startled me so much that I had nearly committed myself by some cry of agitation. It was a dread, inexplainable pause, which nobody dared either break or account for. Dead silence and expectation. And Miss Mortimer bending her head over her pattern-book counting the loops for her new stitch.

The bell did not ring. If it had rung it must have startled us all so much as to diminish the sense of what was coming; there was no such premonition;—a little sound of steps and subdued voices in the hall made my heart beat so loud that I felt sure my Aunt Milly must have heard it. Sara looked up at me suddenly when that sound became audible. Her face was perfectly colourless, and her hands firmly clasped together.

“Children, what is it?” said Aunt Milly, with a sharp frightened cry, breaking off suddenly in a troubled manner as the steps drew nearer. Miss Mortimer lifted her head from her book. She looked up, she looked full at me; she smiled. She was listening, but she was not afraid.

When suddenly the door was thrown open; Ellis called out, with his fullest voice: “The Count Sormonata,” and somebody came in. I cannot tell who it was that came in. I heard Sara cry out with a kind of shriek and repeat the name, “The Count Sermoneta!” The work and the book and all the trifling matters about her fell off from Miss Mortimer. She rose up, clenching her hand, ghastly, like a dead woman. She cried out in a voice I shall never forget: “he is dead, dead!” she cried, with the wildest scream and outcry. “I tell you, he is dead, dead! My God, he is dead! Will nobody believe me?” shrieked out the miserable woman. Her sister ran to her, and was thrust away with those terrible clenched hands. But she never turned to look, nor cast aside her screen that hid the new comer from her. She stood still like some frightful statue, rigid, with her wild eyes fixed upon the air before her—heaven knows what she might see there!—listening in some frightful agony to the steps that came slowly up the room. When that scream burst from her the footsteps faltered and stopped. Then Miss Mortimer looked at me, the only creature she saw before her, and laughed a dreadful laugh of madness and misery. “He knows it!” she cried out, triumphantly, “if you did not, he{335} does. He is dead, dead!” and then came to another dreadful pause, leaning her clenched hands upon the table and fixing her wild eyes upon something straight before her. While I followed the mad stare of her eyes with a shudder I could not refrain, another person came with noiseless rapidity into the spot she was gazing on. It was not a spectre—it was simply Luigi, from whose face agitation had banished all the colour, and who stood trembling and speechless, wringing his hands, and gazing at her with an unspeakable appeal and entreaty. She did not say anything more; she stood with her eyes full opened and staring wide, leaning her hands on that table. I believe, if anybody had touched her, she would have fallen. I almost believed, while I looked at her, that she had died standing, and that it was a lifeless form that stood fixed in that horrible erect attitude, fronting us all, fronting a thousand times more than us, all the guilt and sins of her life. I gave a cry myself in the extremity of my terror and trouble. I went to her, I cannot tell how, stumbling over Aunt Milly, who had either fallen or fainted, or I cannot tell what. I went and put my arm round that dreadful ghastly figure. It was not her I was approaching, but it, the terrible mask and image of her. I had not a thought but that she was dead.

When I touched her, she fell, as I had thought she would. But so strong an impression did her dreadful appearance have upon me, that, when her figure sank into the chair and showed some elasticity, instead of going down on the floor, crumbling down, dropping to pieces, as somehow I had expected, I was struck with a horrible fear and surprise. She was not dead. I called out to them all, what were we to do? and she seemed to hear me. I saw, with a terror I cannot explain, her terrible eyes turn from Luigi—they looked at me, at Aunt Milly, they cast a glance over the room. Was it that the spirit was living and the body dead?

I cannot tell what we did for a dreadful interval after that. Carson came into the confused crowd. Luigi disappeared to find a doctor, and we tried to get her lifted and laid upon the sofa. But though she neither moved nor spoke, and scarcely seemed to breathe, she resisted, in some dreadful way, and would not be removed. I shall never forget that dreadful face; when I am ill it comes back to me, a recollection never to be banished;—dead—yet never consenting to die, keeping alive, determined, resolute, unshaken. I can see the discoloured lips begin to move, the words formed on the inarticulate tongue, the eyes lightening out of that fixed stare. Half the house had{336} stolen into the room in this dreadful emergency without anybody observing them. But the dead woman observed them. And I, who was standing nearest, recoiled from her side, and the whole circle round her broke up and fell back in speechless horror, when a sound broke from that dreadful convulsed mouth. Old Carson, trembling but faithful, stood by her mistress. The poor creature said she understood that sound. It was to send everybody away, said the woman, whose limbs would scarcely support her, and whose very teeth chattered. They all went away, terrified but curious; the boldest lingered behind the screen. Nobody remained within sight of those dreadful eyes but Aunt Milly and me. We two stood huddled on each other, not daring to say a word, or even to exchange looks. Carson stood by her mistress’s side. Carson knew all and everything, more than we knew. She held some cordial to the dead lips, she chafed the ghastly hand, she gazed with pitiful eyes and tears and entreaties at the terrible face. This woman was not deserted in her terrible necessity. The voice of that humble love reached somehow to the springs of existence, and she came back slowly, in a solemn, fearful waking, out of death into life. We stood looking on, with an awe and terror impossible to describe. It was a miracle slowly enacting before us. She was dead and was alive again. Ghastly and dreadful, like a woman out of the grave, Miss Mortimer woke up to all her misery again.{337}

Chapter XVI.

THIS extraordinary revival was going on when the doctor rushed in. Carson, who had been the principal person in all this scene, rushed at him and drew him back. She kept her hand on his arm, detained him, ran into voluble but trembling explanations. When he came forward the doctor gazed with a troubled face at the patient. A fainting fit brought on by great agitation; nobody could give any other account of it; he felt her pulse, and prescribed, and lingered, and looked at us all with mingled inquiry and suspicion. What had we been doing to her? Why had she not been removed to bed? A flash came from the awakening eyes. She made a motion of her hand, waving him away, then looked at me, and pointed vaguely but imperatively before her. When I did not obey immediately, she repeated the question, and at last spoke, with great evident pain, impatience, and imperiousness: “Bring him?” were those the words? She was so imperative, so fiercely determined, that I hastened out to call Luigi. I found him at the door watching, very pale, and in profound distress. He came in after me without saying a word; he went up to her without waiting for me, and knelt down at her feet, and took her hands in his own. “Mother! Mother!” cried the young man. If it did not go to her heart, it went to the heart of every other person present; and Aunt Milly, with a great cry of amazement and terror, repeated it after him, “Mother!” But who could think of any discovery then? The doctor stood listening, thunderstruck, behind the screen. I believe Sara Cresswell was in the room. But we who were round about this terrible figure could observe nothing else, except the dread inarticulate waves of passion that kept rising in her dead face. She thrust at her son with a wild motion of her bloodless hands as if to put him away. She questioned him with her eyes in such frantic impatience, because he could not understand her, that the sight was more{338} than I could bear. I fell back from her trembling and like to faint. Then her will got the better of her weakness. She cried out aloud, with a voice that I am sure could have been heard all over the house;—it was not a living voice; it rang out wild, and loud, and hard, in separate words,—“Where is he?—he? dead! let him come. I know he is dead, let him come;—Count!” and here the terrible voice rose and broke in a wild horror of babbling cries. God help us! It was a dreadful scene. Aunt Milly stood supporting herself by a chair, unable to utter a word or even to move. I was afraid to stir, lest I should faint and fall on the floor. Carson only stood close by her mistress, supporting her head and gazing with wistful eyes at Luigi; the young man stumbled up from his knees in an agony of pity and horror. He held up his hands in wild appeal, whether to her, or to us, or only to God, I cannot tell. “It is my father!” he cried. “She thinks it was my father; and I am to blame!” Then he knelt down again humbly at her feet, and held up his clasped hands to her as if he were praying. I think he must have done it with an intention of drawing her attention by any means, and to prove to her that it was the truth he said.

“Mother,” he cried, looking up at those eyes which had returned, and were fixed upon him,—“mother, I am your son! My father is dead and undisturbed in his grave; he has sent me to his wife. It is I, it is no other. He is with the saints, where there are no names. It is I who am Sermoneta; mother! Oh, heaven, does she not hear me? will she not hear me? It was I, only I. It was Luigi, Countess! If I must not bear your name, I must bear my own. I say it was I, not my father, who can neither do evil nor endure it,—me, either Luigi Sermoneta or Lewis Mortimer, as you will,—your son!”

It is impossible to describe the effect this had upon us all. Aunt Milly burst forth into weeping, convulsive, and not to be restrained. Poor Carson’s bosom heaved with silent sobs. Luigi, who had risen up as he said these last words, stood erect in a passionate self-assertion and defence before his miserable mother. Even she changed under this sudden blaze of revelation. She sat up in her chair, and grew more human; her rigid head began to tremble, her dread-eyes to lose their horror. Now it was no longer that mad ghastly stare with which she regarded the young man before her. She looked at him, leaning forward, slowly recovering her powers. Some convulsive gasps or sobs in her throat alone interrupted this pause of terrible silence. She looked at him, from head to foot, with a slow,{339} dismal scrutiny. Only once before in her life had she met him face to face; then she had been strong enough to send him away and disown him. Now, perforce, the mother looked at her son. The young man trembled under that steady gaze; he held out his hands, and cried out “Mother!” as if all the eloquence in the world lay in that word. She continued perusing him all over with that slow examination. Gradually she returned to be herself again. Not changed, not subdued! Out of that death and agony there came forth, not a repentant woman, but Sarah Mortimer, a creature who would not believe in everlasting truth and justice—not though one should rise from the dead.

“If you are Count Sermoneta,” she said, with all her old expression, pausing between the words to get strength, but speaking in her usual voice, “how do you dare come to me and offer what your father refused? Impostor! you shall never, never, never sit in my father’s place! I disown you. I—I have nothing to do with you. What! would you kill me again?”

Here I interposed; I could not help myself. My very soul sickened at her. I came forward, without knowing what I was doing. “Let her alone,” I cried out, “don’t say anything. She has died and come alive again, and is no better. Do you think you can move her? Oh, Aunt Milly, it is your part now. Take him away out of her sight, leave her alone in her wretchedness. Can you bear to see her smiling there?—smiling at us! She is dead, and it is a devil that has come into her frame!”

“Milly, hush, hush, you are mad,” cried Sara Cresswell, behind me; but Aunt Milly did not think I was mad. She came and put her arm into Luigi’s, her tears driven away by horror and indignation. “As sure as God sees us all,” cried Aunt Milly, “I will do you justice. Come away from her, as Milly, says. You make her wickeder and wickeder—Oh, wickeder than she really is! Oh, Sarah,” she cried out, turning suddenly round, “is it true?—is he your son?”

Miss Mortimer said nothing;—the very colour had returned to her face. Her head trembled excessively, but she had forced some frightful caricature of a smile upon her lip. She held out her hand and pointed at them in a kind of derision. “You were always a fool,” she said at last, with a gasp. Aunt Milly did not wait or hesitate any longer. She was possessed, like me, with a sudden impatience and intolerance of that inhuman{340} hard-heartedness. She went away hastily out of the room, drawing Luigi with her. Miss Mortimer listened to the sound of their steps till it had quite died away. Then she turned round to Carson with some instinctive confession of weakness at last. Their eyes met; but even Carson could no longer receive this dreadful confidence. She stumbled back from her mistress with a cry. “I cannot, I cannot!” cried Carson, “anything but this. I held him in my arms a baby, and I’ll never disown him, if I was to die.” As her mistress turned round upon her, Carson retreated back till she came to the wall, and stood there, fixed and desperate, holding up her hands as if to keep off those pursuing eyes. “Whatever you please!” cried Carson, “but not to disown him as I dressed the first day he was in this world. No! not for no payment nor coaxing! I’ve served you faithful all times and seasons, but I’ll not do no more, not if I was to die!”

Miss Mortimer sat gazing at her rebellious maid. What no other appeal could do this did. She sank into the frail old woman she was, as she gazed at Carson, who had forsaken her. She broke forth into feeble, passionate tears. She could bear to send her son away from her, but she could not bear to lose her faithful companion and attendant of forty years. “Carson!” cried the broken voice, in a tone of absolute despair. Then Miss Mortimer rose up. I ran forward to her in terror, and so did Sara, but she waved us both away, steadied herself, cast a long look upon the woman who stood trembling against the wall, and slowly turned to make her way out of the room. She walked like some one upon whom sudden blindness had fallen, wavering, stopping to steady herself, putting out her hand to pilot the way, groping through the piercing daylight that penetrated every corner of the room. We followed her, trembling and terrified. As she went slowly through the long room, heavy sobs came from her poor breast, sobs of which she was not conscious; her muslin scarf had been torn and crushed in her dreadful faint, if it was a faint, and hung all dishevelled from her shoulders. One hand hung loosely down by her side, the other she groped with as she made her way. Now and then she moaned aloud. Oh, miserable forsaken creature! there had been still one link of life to hold her on to the living world.

We went after her, silent, hushing our very steps lest she should turn upon us, and watching with a perfect awe of wonder how she steered herself through the room; she stumbled on the stair, but still rejected any assistance. All the way up{341} she went forlorn, accepting no support. When we reached her door, I rushed forward not to let her shut me out. “Let me be your maid to-night,” I cried out, laying my hand upon hers. Her hand made me shiver; it was cold, as if it had actually been dead. She pushed me back, not looking at me, and shut the door. What she did, or how she sustained herself in that vacant room, we could see no longer. Sara and I, arrested at the door, turned and looked into each other’s faces. Sara broke out into the passionate tears of excitement and agitation which could be restrained no longer. “She will kill herself!” cried Sara. “Oh, godmamma, let me in, let me in. I will never cross you or trouble you. I will wait upon you night and day, godmamma!” No answer came. We tried to open the door, but she had fastened it. We could do nothing but leave her alone in this dreadful solitude. For a little while a rustling sound of motion was in the room, and still those pathetic, unconscious moans breaking at intervals into the silence. But after a while all became still. She had not fainted or fallen, for we should have heard her. She made no answer to our entreaties—dead silence reigned in the room where that living spirit, with all its dread forces and passions, palpitated within its veil of worn-out flesh. I could imagine her taking possession of that dreadful solitude, losing at a blow far more than reputation or fair-fame, all that made her life tolerable to her, entering upon a new, unthought of, murderous purgatory. We could not make up our minds to leave that closed door. Sara was still crying, and almost hysterical with her long strain of excitement. I made her go into the neighbouring room, where Lizzie was with my boy, while I ran downstairs for Aunt Milly. Oh, what a contrast it was! I snatched little Harry into my arms to kiss him, and went away again, with a pity, I cannot describe, past the door where that dreadful forsaken woman lay alone in the silence. I could not bear it. God alone knew how she had sinned; but to leave her thus deserted in her misery was not in the heart of man.

I ran downstairs very hastily without waiting to think—at the foot of the stairs Carson stood crying. She gasped out an inquiry at me which was not audible at first. “Is she alone? alone? alone? Will nobody stay with her?” cried Carson. “Oh, ma’am, my missis will never let me near her again! I know it’s no use trying; but, for the love of mercy, let somebody get into the room! There’s poisons and all sorts there. God forgive me! couldn’t I have held my tongue?” cried the poor woman, in an agony of terror. I was angry with her in{342} the impatience of my thoughts. I did not consider for how many long years Carson had endured all.

“But why can’t you go up now? try if she will let you in; she is fond of you, Carson,” said I. “Oh, go, go, and try.”

“She’ll never look at me more,” said Carson with mournful certainty; “but I’ll go, I’ll try. If it was at the end of the world, I’d go; but she’ll never see me again.” The poor woman went upstairs saying this over to herself, and dreadful as it was to think so, I was certain she was right.

And I went on to the library where Aunt Milly was. She had forgotten her sister. She was listening, with a glowing face, with tears, and outcries, and lamentations, to the tale Luigi told her. Some papers were lying before them, and a miniature, which caught my eye even at such a moment—a picture of a lovely fair woman, imperious and splendid. I cannot say that it bore any resemblance to the wretched, solitary creature upstairs; but I knew it was Sarah Mortimer,—Sarah Mortimer, unkind, untrue, a woman making no account of love or tenderness; but not the Sarah Mortimer who had delivered herself to the devil, and turned her back upon nature. I pointed at it unconsciously in my excitement. It was easier than naming her name.

“Do you know she is alone upstairs, by herself?” cried I, “perhaps dying, and nobody with her! Aunt Milly, you are her sister. She will neither let us in, nor answer us. You have a right to go to her. There are all kinds of dangerous things in the room—she might die!”

“But Carson—Carson is there,” cried Aunt Milly, grasping my hand, to bring me to myself. “My dear, Carson is a better companion than either you or me.”

“But Carson has gone,” I cried, “Carson will never be with her any more. Hush! was that a sound upstairs? Come, I entreat you! She is all alone, quite alone, not a creature with her. It is heartrending to think what she is doing there—come! come!”

Aunt Milly stood perplexed. She could not comprehend Carson’s absence, and I might have had a long account of the whole matter to go through had not Luigi come to my assistance. He took her hand hurriedly, and pressed it in his own.

“My aunt, I can wait,” said Luigi, “and I will till there is time for me; but my mother, my mother is——”

Aunt Milly started, and understood all in a moment. His{343} mother, the unfortunate wretched woman who had disowned and rejected him—no need for over-much explaining, or setting-forth of all the darker shades of the picture to show her wretchedness. Nature and she had parted company, and there was nothing too dreadful that might not befall her in the fatal silence of that secluded room.{344}

Chapter XVII.

ALL the remainder of that dreadful afternoon we spent in vain endeavours to get admission. No answer came to us from those closed doors—silence, dead and unbroken, was within those concealing walls, which it seemed wonderful to me did not beat and throb with the torturing life within them. The whole house was disturbed, as was to be supposed. While we stood in an anxious, troubled group round Miss Mortimer’s door, Carson, with her melancholy and ashamed face, stood anxious and terrified at a little distance—the maids below came to take furtive peeps upon the stairs—and Ellis himself stood listening in the hall, catching at every sound. The whole house was conscious of some dreadful crisis, which had occurred, or was occurring; and even in the frightful anxiety which possessed us, Aunt Milly began to feel that extraordinary infraction of all the decorums of such a house. She whispered to Sara to leave us, and go downstairs to restore the equilibrium of the household a little, and sent Carson into Lizzie’s room, where the poor creature sank, overpowered and almost fainting, upon the bed. Then Aunt Milly went away to her own apartment, and came back with a huge bunch of keys. With these in her hand she motioned me to follow her round about into the little corridor to which Miss Mortimer’s dressing-room opened. “Milly, stand by me,” she cried, with a sob. “I’d rather face so many lions than go in upon her against her will—but it must be—I cannot help myself. After what we saw to-day, I should be guilty, I should be a criminal—don’t you think so, Milly?—if I left her alone to-night.”

It was getting dusk, and the light was pale and ghastly in that little corridor which was close upon the backstairs, and very bare and chill. The door opened without the assistance of the keys. We went into the little luxurious room where the fire burned brightly, warm though the weather was, and which bore all the marks of being lived in and cherished. An easy-chair and footstool were placed at the side of the fire, and close by stood a little table with a raised ornamental rim, like a tray, in which some books and some of Miss Mortimer’s materials{345} for work were placed. At the other end of the room was a window, where stood a plain rush-bottomed chair and a large round basket of work; there was Carson’s place; and the union of the two in this their joint retirement and dwelling-place—the junction of the lady’s luxuries and the servant’s labours in this habitation common to them both—struck me with a pathetic force, now that this old, long, immemorial connection was brought to a close so hurriedly. Aunt Milly did not linger in this room; she went straight to the door leading into the bedchamber which was fastened. “Sarah,” she called softly, “Sarah!” there was no answer. We listened, and the silence round was dreadful; the silence and the gathering twilight, and the terrible mystery of life or death that lay in that closed-up room. Then she tried the keys with her trembling hands. Still not a word from the solitary within, not even of remonstrance or indignation. After what seemed to us a dreadful tedious interval, in which the night appeared visibly to darken round us, the lock at length yielded. The key that had been in it fell, with a dull, heavy sound, inside, making our hearts beat. Then Aunt Milly opened the door. I shall never forget the sensation with which I entered that dark room. What we were to find there, a ghastly corpse or a miserable living creature, nobody could tell; treading on the soft carpets that made our footsteps noiseless, brushing past those soft-drawn curtains which shut out every draught, coming into this atmosphere of care, and comfort, and luxury, the contrast was almost too dreadful to bear. I remember trying to listen for her breath, but could not for the terrified beating of my own heart. The darkness made everything more dreadful still, for the blinds were drawn down, and the little light there was fell so faintly through them that we could scarcely find our way through the room. Aunt Milly was before me; she made a terrified plunge forward, and gave a cry as we came past the head of the bed, which was towards the dressing-room door. Something lay in a heap on the floor by the side of the bed. She threw herself down on the floor beside that heap. I don’t think she was conscious, even when she touched it, what it was; but as I rushed to help her, as I thought, I was suddenly arrested by a gleam of eyes from the bed. “I am not dead,” said Miss Mortimer. I could not help nor command myself. Some scream or shriek came from me in the extremity of my awe and terror. I could hear it answered by a sudden stir and commotion outside the door. “They’re killing my mistress,” was Lizzie’s voice; and with the wildest alarm lest some violent{346} attack on the door should follow, I rushed to it, opened it, and asked for lights.

Outside were half the household grouped at various distances. No precautions could stifle that eager curiosity which knew by instinct that some wonderful mystery was here. They all dispersed when they saw me, frightened and ashamed of themselves. Only Lizzie kept her ground. She seized hold of my sleeve and detained me. “You’re no to stay there!” cried Lizzie. “Oh, no you, no you! You’ll gang and let them kill you, and the bairn’ll perish, and the Captain never come hame! Let me in! I’ll get the drinks and keep up the fire, and never close an e’e; but it’s no you that’s to watch, and you the light o’ folks e’en. It’s no to be you! If I was to gang to my bed and sleep, what would the Captain say to me?” cried poor Lizzie, with a trembling burst of excitement and anxiety, standing close up by me, holding my sleeve, pressing to enter the room. Somehow it comforted me, though it was a piece of folly. I told her again to get the lights, and went back into the dark, solemn room. These sounds of the outside world had not entered there. Miss Mortimer lay on the bed with her eyes wide-awake and gleaming, gathering into them all the little light in the room. Aunt Milly stood beside her, asking how she was; herself scarcely recovered from the shock that had been given her by that heap of clothes upon the floor, trembling, not knowing very well what she said, her great yearning anxiety and curiosity to get at her sister’s heart, overflowing in uneasy questions. Did she feel ill? Would she have anything? How was she? Miss Mortimer took no notice of her questions. She repeated once “I am not dead,” with a strange spitefulness and defiance, and for the rest lay silent, looking at me as I moved about the room, a dark undecipherable figure, and at poor Aunt Milly standing beside me. She took no other notice. It seemed to please her to lie there silent, defying all our curiosity. But she did not complain or find fault with our presence. I believe in my heart she was glad to have her dreadful solitude thus broken, and that it was a comfort to her desolation to see living creatures moving in the darkness. I cannot help thinking so; but after that one expression, twice repeated, not all the anxious questions of her sister could bring a syllable to her lips.

When the candles came she closed her eyes; then, after a little interval, made a wrench at the curtains and gave an impatient sigh. The sigh was for Carson, who doubtless knew exactly what she liked and what she did not like. The fire{347} was laid already in the grate, and I lighted it, and began to put away those things which lay on the floor. Wherever I moved, when it was within her sight, she followed me with her eyes from within the crimson shadow of the curtain. She was perfectly composed and self-possessed. She was even well as it appeared. The ghastly colour had disappeared from her face. She lay there self-absorbed, as she sat over her knitting. All the dread incidents of this day had passed over, and left Sarah Mortimer unchanged. Such a woman could deny, defy, live through any thing. I watched her with indescribable awe and——. Well! I had pitied her while she was alone; but do you suppose I could love such a woman, lying there unmoved and unrepentant, in her dread self-occupation? It was not possible I hated her, loathed her, turned away with sickening and disgust from her dreadful looks. It was hard, even, to pity her now.{348}

Chapter XVIII.

I HAD with difficulty overcome Aunt Milly. I had represented to her how much better I was able to bear it than she, and Aunt Milly herself had sent off Sara Cresswell to bed. It was late at night, and all the house was still. We were both together in the dressing-room. Nothing would persuade dear Aunt Milly to leave me alone to this vigil. She wrapped herself in a shawl and lay down upon the sofa. “I am at hand the moment I am wanted,” she said. I had kissed baby, and said my prayers beside him. I was not frightened or nervous now. I went in, wrapped in my dressing-gown, to look at my patient. She stretched out her hand, and then when she saw me, drew it back again with a fretful groan, and turned her face to the wall. It was Carson, still Carson, whom she missed at every turn. But she did not answer me when I asked if she wanted anything, she only groaned again with a dismal impotence and impatience. I sat and watched her at a distance while she lay in that broad wakefulness, her eyes wandering to and fro, her mind evidently wandering, too, into never-ending thought. It was to me a spirit, somehow, chained and fettered to a body it could not throw off, which lay in irksome confinement on that bed,—a spirit ever active, sleepless, evil. Why was I sitting up with her? she was not even ill. Was it that she had died that day, and some wicked spirit had taken possession of the exhausted frame? I declare that this idea returned to me in spite of myself. I could not escape from it; as the night crept on strange fears came over me. Her eyes fascinated mine. I could not withdraw my gaze from those two gleams of strange light within the crimson curtains, moving about from minute to minute with their restless observation. What was she thinking of? Could she tell that, under this roof, the roof of his fathers, her injured son was sleeping? Was she thinking of her youth, her life, the past, with all its dread, pertinacious, stubborn cruelty? I did not know then how the extraordinary story told by Luigi could be harmonised into possibility. I could not think of any story; I{349} could think of nothing but that solitary woman pursuing those sleepless thoughts, which nobody shared, through all the dread recesses of her conscience, through all the scenes, visible to her only, of her hidden mysterious life.

It must have been about midnight when some one knocked softly at the door. It made me start painfully with a terror I could not subdue. I rose to see who it was, trembling at the summons. It was Carson, who called me anxiously into the drawing room. She did not say anything, but drew me to a little medicine-chest, which she opened, and from which, all silently, with the speed of long custom, she took a little bottle, and dropped some of its contents into a glass of water. “You must put this by her bedside,” whispered Carson, “and here are all her medicines; but don’t drop them yourself, for the love of pity!—you’ve no experience. You might give her her death. When my missis wants her draughts, will you call me?” While I promised to do so, Aunt Milly woke up from a short sleep. “Has anything happened, Milly?” she cried, starting up suddenly. Nothing had happened but that her start had thrown down a footstool, and made a noise which sounded dreadful in the calm of the night. The three of us dispersed hastily upon that sound. Carson disappeared out of the room. Aunt Milly sat up trembling on the sofa. I went back to the patient. The noise had roused her. She had struggled up in bed, and was trying to look round to the dressing-room door.

“Who is it?” she cried, when I went in, her eyes fixing on me with something of the dreadful expression they had in the drawing-room, as if she had lost control over them, and the orbs turned wildly out and fluttered to the light. “If it’s him, let him come here.”

“It was only Carson,” I said.

“Carson? let her not come near me. I will do her an injury,” cried Miss Mortimer with wild exasperation. Then she suffered herself to fall back on her pillows. “They’re all in a plot,” she went on, “all in a plot, the very woman I trusted; I shall never trust anybody any more. But here’s the wonderful thing; she is just as great a coward as she is a fool; and to think she should hate me so much as to be able to go up and down these passages in the middle of the night with a dead man! Hark, there they are!”

I fell back from the bedside at the words, unable to refrain from a shudder of horror.

“You’re afraid,” said Miss Mortimer, looking at me with a{350} kind of contemptuous curiosity. “Yet you saw him come in yesterday and you did not faint. I remember seeing you stare and stare. Ah! it’s strange to see a dead man!”

“I saw nobody but Luigi; nobody but your son,” cried I, in dismay.

When it was said I drew back in alarm, lest the words should rouse her into passion. But they did not. She was beyond that.

“I could not see him, though,” she continued, going on in her dreadful monologue; “it was only a kind of feeling he was there, and the scent of the syringas in the garden. You know it’s very overpowering; those they call the Virgin’s Breast. It was that made me faint.”

Here she fixed her eyes on me again, as if she imagined that she had been setting up a plausible plea and dared me to contradict it.

“I wonder if he’s as handsome now he’s dead,” she went on in a very low tone; “he was never as handsome for a man as I was for a woman. I’ll never, never speak to Carson again; but you might ask her if he’s kept his looks. Ah! I thought I saw some one behind the curtains there; but he’ll never appear to me. For he swore, you know, he swore, he was never to give me any trouble, and he kept his word till he died.”

“Oh, Miss Mortimer,”—I cried, coming forward to the bed with the glass in my hand. She held out hers eagerly, and interrupted me.

“Miss Mortimer! to be sure I am Miss Mortimer; I have always been Miss Mortimer, you know that; then what’s all this made up story about a son? For, you know,” she said, sinking her voice again into a whisper, and holding the glass in her hand, “to be called countess would have been a temptation to many a woman. But I never would have it, not for a day, never after he refused to take our name. That’s what a man calls love, you know. You shall take his name if it’s a beggar’s, and he will not take yours if it brings a kingdom. But I was not the sort of woman to be a beggarly Italian countess. And I’ve beaten him in his grave,” she cried out in ghastly triumph,—“in his grave I’ve got the victory over him! Here’s the child on his knees to me to call him Lewis Mortimer. Ah! you’re Richard Mortimer’s daughter. I might have married Richard if I had known how things were going to turn out. We’ll set it all right to-morrow. Yes; stand by me, and we’ll set it all right. There’s no dead man shall conquer me. Do you hear? There he is pacing about the passage as he{351} used to do when I refused to see him. But he dared not come in; no, not if I had been a thousand times his wife.”

And I cannot help it if people may think me a fool; there were steps outside in the passage. If it was a living creature I cannot tell; but, as certain as I live, there were footsteps going up and down, up and down, with a heavy, melancholy tread. She looked at me full in the face as we heard them going on. She began to tremble so that the bed shook under her; her eyes grew wilder, her colour more ghastly. In spite of all she said, she was stricken to her very heart with fear.

And as for me, I did not feel I had courage to open the door. I called out, “Whoever you are, go away, I beseech,—go away! She cannot rest while you are here.” The steps stopped in a moment, then, after a pause, went on and went away, growing fainter in the distance. Thank heaven it must have been somebody living! perhaps Carson, perhaps her son.

When I came back to the bedside she had dropped asleep—actually, in the midst of her terror, had fallen into an unnatural slumber. It was an opiate that Carson had given her. The little medicine-chest was full of different kinds of opiates. Scarcely one of them that was not marked poison. I looked into the dressing-room for a minute to comfort poor Aunt Milly, who had heard all her sister said, and was in a dreadful state of agitation. She kissed me and blessed me, and leaned her dear kind head upon my shoulder for the moment I dared stay beside her. “She would never have said so much to me,” said Aunt Milly, and wrapped her own shawl round me, and tried to make me take some wine which she had brought upstairs. When I would not take that, lest it should make me sleepy, Aunt Milly got up from the sofa to make some tea for me. Everybody knows such nights—everybody knows how some one always tries to comfort the watcher with such attentions—tender, useless, heartbreaking attempts at outside consolation. I went back to the sick room with a pang both of relief and anguish. If it had been my husband or my baby that I was watching! Thank God it was not so! but the picture came before me with a terrible force just then, when I did not know where Harry was, nor how he might be lying, nor who might be watching over him. I tried to shut out my own thoughts from this room; but who could ever do that? I fancied I could see white soldiers’ huts rising in the darkness, and groans of wounded men. It was a relief to me when my patient groaned and turned in her bed. But she did not wake; She lay all night long in what seemed more like a stupor than a{352} sleep, interrupted by groans and stifled outcries, and long sighs that broke one’s heart. No wonder we had heard of her bad nights.

In the morning, when she woke at last, Miss Mortimer turned round upon me with a half-stupified, wondering stare. Then she recollected herself. She did not speak, but I saw all the thoughts of the previous night come slowly back to her face. She watched me arranging the room in the cheerful morning light; she even permitted me to raise her among her pillows, and swallowed, though with an effort, the tea I brought her. She bore no malice against me for anything I had said. She seemed even pleased to have me beside her; but it was not for my sake; I believe she thought I was doing it for an interested reason. And she—she thought she had found an accomplice in me.

This morning she spoke with difficulty, and her looks were changed. She looked ill, very ill. The morning light showed a strange widening and breadth about her eyes, a solemn fixed expression in her face, which, though I had never watched it coming before, went to my heart with an instinctive chill and recognition. She could not bear me to be out of her sight for a moment. When I went to the dressing-room door to speak a word to Aunt Milly she called me back with an impatient, stifled cry. At last she beckoned me close to her bedside.

“I want—I want—send—let him come,” she stammered out.

“Luigi?” I said.

She clasped her hands together in an access of passion. “To make my will,” she cried, with a kind of scream; “now—now—this moment.” When she had uttered the words she fell back panting, a flush of weakness and fever coming to her face. I went and told Aunt Milly, who, all troubled as she was, sent off a messenger immediately for Mr. Cresswell. “I will send for the doctor, too, and—and the clergyman; but what can Dr. Roberts do for her?” cried poor Aunt Milly, wringing her hands. The clergyman! What, indeed, could that sleek, comfortable man do at this deathbed of guilt and passion? Ah me! A poor priest might have done something, perhaps, or a poor preacher accustomed to matters of life and death.

The day glided on while we waited. She would not let me leave her; but she did not say anything, except disjointed murmurs, and strange broken conversations with herself. It was not the present time that her mind was busy with. Listening in the silence of that room I became aware of a passionate{353} prime of life, an Italian summer, a bitter mortification, disappointment, revenge—revenge which had come back upon the remorseless inflictor, and made her life the desert it had been. It all opened up before me in breaks and glimpses; afterwards, when I knew the story, it was with the force of an actual representation that I remembered this broken, unconscious autobiography. She was not raving; she was only calling up and setting in order the incidents of that crisis of her life, I cannot follow her through it now; but I remember that the awe, and interest, and excitement kept me from feeling any weariness.

I could not turn away for any sort of refreshment; I sat fascinated before that revelation of the secret of her days. She seemed to have foresworn husband and child, life itself and all that made it bearable, in dreadful vengeance for some broken promise or unfulfilled vow. Her father came flitting across the troubled picture; the count, and some dreadful controversy about a name, all intermixed with recollections of certain rooms and their furniture; of a garden and a thicket of syringas. What that point of deception or disappointment was, on which the whole story turned, I could not tell; but for this she had left the stream of life when life was at its fullest promise; for this she had settled down in a frightful, stubborn determination, behind that screen in the drawing-room of the Park. All her after existence, huddled up into one long monotonous day, had not made these scenes less fresh in her memory. This was now she had revenged herself—on the Count, who was dead—on her son, whom she disowned and cast away from her; ah! above all, a thousand times more bitterly, on herself.

It was afternoon when Mr. Cresswell came. He was brought up to the room immediately, without a word of explanation, and accordingly knew nothing of all the dreadful history of the last twenty-four hours. He had not even a hint that anything was changed, except the health of Miss Mortimer. He came and expressed his concern in the common-place tone of an unexcited stranger; he expressed his surprise to see me with her. In his heart he set it down that this will was of my suggesting. I am certain he did; and smiled to find me the nurse of the sick woman. But Miss Mortimer (that I should still go on calling her by that name after all I had heard!) left him very little time. She recovered herself wonderfully at sight of him; her very utterance became easier in the anxiety she showed to express herself plainly. She was impatient of{354} his inquiries and condolences. She moved her hands uneasily about the bed, and for a moment her eyes fluttered as they had done the day before; but as soon as he had prepared his papers, and taken his pen in hand, she was composed again. My heart beat so loud with anxiety to hear what she said, that I could scarcely breathe. Was she now at last to set right the injustice of a life?

“Write,” she cried, with a gasp for breath, “that I leave everything—mind, it is everything, Bob Cresswell, no partitions. My sister Milly, though she is a fool, is as fond of her, ah! as—as I am—all the Park and the lands belonging to it, to Millicent Mortimer. There! the young soldier’s wife; and to—eh! who is it? Who speaks to me?”

I grasped her hand hard in my sudden passion. It was cold, cold, a dead hand, and horrified me with its touch. “Stop,” I cried, “oh, stop, Mr. Cresswell; she cannot mean such horrible injustice! Miss Mortimer! Countess! whatever you are! will you dare to die and never repent? Do you think I will let you bring a curse on my innocent baby? Stop! Stop! I forbid it, for her soul’s sake!”

Mr. Cresswell pushed back his chair and stared in amazement too great for words. She looked at me with a strange air of cunning and superior wisdom, and then at him.

“She thinks,” said the dying woman, in a kind of whisper, addressing Mr. Cresswell, “to draw me into some foolish talk, and bring it up against the will. Fool! they are all fools; go on.”

“What does it mean?” he said looking at me.

“It means that she ought to do justice,” I cried; “that it is all she can do now; that she is going to die without repenting, without making amends. If you write it, it will be a sin.”

“Bob Cresswell, go on; it is I who am the person to be attended to,” said Miss Mortimer. “This creature, do you hear, is a fool. I know what I mean.”

“There is something here I don’t understand; my dear lady, you’re not so very ill, suppose we put it off,” said the lawyer in great perplexity; “and there’s Miss Milly, you know, she has her share in the Park.”

“Attend to me!” cried Miss Mortimer, wildly. “You will kill me; am I to be thwarted now, as well as all my life? Oh, good heavens! in my own house, and in bed, and perhaps going to die—and I am not to have my will, my will! I shall have my will, if I should write it myself!”{355}

She stretched out her eager hand towards the writing things, stretching out of bed, and by some chance touched Mr. Cresswell. When he felt that deathly touch he grew very grave, and started with a shudder. He took up his pen immediately.

“I will do what you please,” he said. He could not resist that cry of death.{356}

Chapter XIX.

I RAN downstairs in desperation. I could not be content to let that dreadful mockery go on. It was vain, for we never, never, would have taken another man’s rights; but for herself, the miserable, guilty woman, to hinder her by any means, to save her from putting that seal upon all her cruelty and falsehood. I saw nobody as I flew down the stairs, though afterwards I was conscious that Lizzie had been standing there with my beautiful innocent boy. Do you think I would consent for a kingdom to bring the curse of wrongful wealth upon little Harry? Not if starvation and misery had been the only other choice!

I burst into the library, where I knew Aunt Milly was. Pale with watching and anxiety, she was sitting propped up in an easy-chair, with Sara Cresswell and Luigi beside her. I believe they had been telling her their story, and she, straining her ear for every sound, had been trying to listen to them. When I came in she started up from her chair and came to meet me, unconsciously putting them away. “What is it, Milly?” she cried, putting out her arms to me. I dared not permit myself to rest or even lean upon her. I seized her hand and drew her to the door.

“Come up, and interfere,” I cried; “she is making her dreadful will. She is leaving everything to me. Come, before she has put the seal to all this misery. Aunt Milly, can you stand aside and let this be done?”

“My dear,” said Aunt Milly, with a burst of tears, kissing me and looking in my face, “you know I love you, Milly; you know you are almost dearer to me now than any creature on earth.”

I could not thank her; I had no time. I did not feel grateful or pleased, but only impatient. “Come; come!” I repeated almost with violence. I could not understand how she could delay.

“Let her do what she will,” cried Aunt Milly. “If I go{357} and argue with her, it will only make her worse. Oh, child! we can’t cross her now; don’t you see we can’t cross her now? But I took a vow, as sure as God saw us, I would do justice,” said Aunt Milly, solemnly through her tears. “She can but do what she can. We are co-heiresses! she has no power but over her own share.”

“Share!” I cried, “is it shares we have to think of? She is dying, and she does not repent.”

I could not wait there any longer; they all followed upstairs, Aunt Milly holding my hand. They all came into the dressing-room, where we could faintly hear Miss Mortimer’s voice, and where Carson stood trembling at the door. At this moment there was no order or rule in the stricken house. Then Aunt Milly went with me into the sick room. Mr. Cresswell was writing, and Miss Mortimer had stopped speaking. She turned her eyes triumphantly upon us both.

“I have carried out your wishes, Milly. I have left everything to your favourite,” she said, with pauses to got her breath. “You may sign it after me, and then it will be complete.”

“Sarah, that boy, that boy!” cried Aunt Milly. “Oh, put out your hand to him just once—think, before it is finished, what claims he has. Give him something. Sarah! Sarah! you would not take me into your confidence; but I’ll go down on my knees to you if you’ll do justice to that boy!”

“I am going to die,” said Miss Mortimer, after a pause. “I can see it in all your faces. I can’t be much worse off than I’ve been here. But look you, Milly, if you come and drive me into passion; if that wretched boy so much as comes near me, I’ll die directly, and you’ll be my murderers. His father made the choice—and I will not change, no, not if he came again, as he did yesterday, with the dead man. Cresswell, I’m growing a little faint. Is it ready to sign?”

He brought it and laid it before her on the bed; and she called to me to raise her up. I was desperate. I would rather have been content to be her murderer, as she said, than to let her do that sin.

“You are not Sarah Mortimer,” said I, as with great difficulty she wrote her signature. “It is a false name, and you know it is. Write your own name, Countess Sermoneta, and let everybody know that you have disinherited your son.”

She stared round at me, setting her teeth, then returned to the paper, and with a desperate resolution completed it. I{358} stood perfectly aghast as I saw that dead hand trace those words, which to me cut her off for ever from every hope:—“By marriage, Sermoneta.” God help us! was there now no place of repentance?

“And now,” she said, falling back on her pillows, “send me Carson—I want no more—no more from anybody; send me my maid. I’ll forgive her though she deserted me;—nobody,” sobbed the poor voice, all at once breaking and growing feeble,—“nobody knows me but Carson. I want my maid; Carson, here!”

She had scarcely spoken, when Carson was by her side kneeling down at the bed, kissing the cold hand held out to her with such tears and eager affection as I never saw a servant show to a mistress. It was a reconciliation of love. The tears came into Miss Mortimer’s eyes. She gave her hand to her maid’s caresses with actual affection. It was the strangest conclusion to that dismal scene. One after another we three went out of the room confounded. Aunt Milly weeping tears, the bitterness of which I could not enter into. Mr. Cresswell, with a face of utter wonder, and myself, too much shocked and shaken to be able for anything. I could not go downstairs with them. I took refuge in the room that had been fitted up as a nursery for my baby. I got my boy into my arms and cried over him. It was too much; when he put his innocent arms round my neck and laid his cheek to mine to console me, my happiness struck me as with a pang. Oh, the unutterable things she had lost, that poor, miserable woman! I got up again to rush back to her with my baby, and see if that would not touch her heart, but stumbled in weariness and weakness, and fell on my knees on the floor. That was all that was to be done. I acknowledged it with that dreadful sense of impotence that one has, when hearts and souls have to be dealt with. On my knees I might help that desolate, lonely creature,—nowhere else, in no other manner. And even this not now. I was worn out with excitement and distress. I was ashamed to think, or permit myself to say, that one night’s watching had done it. I had to put little Harry back into Lizzie’s hands and lie down in the waning daylight. My head throbbed, and my heart beat, so that I could not even recollect my thoughts. And all that had happened seemed to have no impression but one upon me. I never thought of that group downstairs going over the wonderful story which nobody had so much as guessed at. I thought only of that hopeless woman, in her shut-up room, slowly floating out of existence, dying hour by hour, and minute by{359} minute, unchanged and unsubdued. What was death that it should change her, whom love and pity, and the long-suffering of God had not changed? But I thought to myself I could never more blame those who preach out of season as well as in season, and cannot be silent. There were moments in which I could not endure myself—in which I felt as if I must go and make another appeal to her—even at the risk of thrusting myself into the room, and disturbing the quiet of her last hours.{360}

Chapter XX.


It is I who must finish what there is to tell. My dear Milly was not in a condition, either of mind or body, to go on with the story that had moved her so much; and since then, poor dear child, you may suppose how little heart she had to enter upon other things. We heard of the battle that had just been fought not long after, and knew that Harry was sure to have been in it, having got letters from him of his safe arrival just the day after my sister’s death. And then we had to wait for the lists. I can tell nobody how we lived through these days. She used to go down and teach in the village school, and to all the distressed people near. The things she did for them might have shocked me at another time. Anything, it did not matter what, a servant’s work, whatever there might happen to be to do—and came home at night tired to death, but with no sleep in her poor eyes. She used to say, though she could not sleep, that it was a kind of comfort to be very tired, it dulled her a little in her heart. When the news came he was slightly wounded, and had distinguished himself, she fell down in a faint at my feet. It was the first moment she dared be insensible. After that little term of relief, our anxieties were constant. But at last, you know, it is all over, and he is coming home.

But to go back to that day. When we left my sister’s deathbed, and I, without even Milly to support me, went down alone with them all to hear everything told over again, and all Mr. Cresswell’s remarks and astonishment, you may well imagine it was very hard to me. I would have given anything to have been able to keep all that from Mr. Cresswell, but after what he had heard, and Sarah’s extraordinary signature, of course it was indispensable that he should understand the whole business; as well as for my nephew’s sake. I am bound to say Luigi behaved to his poor mother in a very different way from that in which she had treated him. If she had been the best mother in the world he could not have told the tale more{361} gently. He went over it all,—how there had been a secret marriage done in Leghorn, where it was not unlawful for a Catholic to marry a Protestant, and where his father came under some engagement to take our own name. How it was kept secret for some reason of her own. How my father found it out. How the Count was summoned and called upon to bind himself, now that the affair could not be mended, to come home with them, and take the name of Mortimer. How, being dreadfully irritated by his wife (I don’t doubt she could have driven a man mad, especially in the days of her beauty), he refused; and how she had renounced, and given him up, and had nothing more to say to him. You may say, why did not he claim his rights? I can’t tell. He might have ruined her reputation, to be sure, or made the whole story public; but I suppose she must have been more than a match for him. She retired away into some village, and had her baby, and left it there. Then she came home. The Count never disturbed her all his life; and when he died he told his son the story, and bade him never to rest till he had recovered his mother. The young man, all amazed, full of grief for his father and anxiety to find her, came to England, asking for the Countess Sermoneta. It was only after many failures, and seeking better information from his father’s papers, that he came to believe that she called herself still Miss Mortimer; and we know all the rest. Luigi did not blame her, not a single word; he sat with his head leaning on his hands, overcome with distress and trouble. He called her his mother, his mother, every time he spoke, and said the name in such a tone as would have gone to anybody’s heart. Little Sara sat gazing at him all the time, with her whole heart in her eyes. When he covered his face with his hands in that pitiful way, Sara was unable to contain herself; she moved restlessly in her seat, fell a-crying in extreme agitation, and then, just for a moment, laid her hand upon his and pressed it with a quick momentary touch of sympathy. Her father’s eyes gleamed out for a moment surprise, anger, I cannot tell what mixture of feelings; but, dear! dear! what had their courtships and lovemakings to do in this stricken house? I could not bear any such question just at that moment. I told Cresswell that it was needful he should make my will, too, as well as my sister’s, and that I left my share to my nephew, without any conditions. Cresswell made objections, as was natural for a lawyer. His objections were too much for me; I got angry and impatient, more than I ought to have done. Here was he pottering about proofs and{362} such things, when I knew, and had seen, and read it all in my sister’s face. This story was the key to Sarah’s life; I understood it all now what it meant, from her never-uttered quarrel with my father, down to the time when she met Luigi on the road. And the man spoke to me about proofs! I made him draw out a kind of form of a will, like that which Sarah had signed, but which Mr. Cresswell worded so cautiously, that it would be null if Luigi was not proved my nephew—bequeathing all my share of the Park estate to him. I confess it cost me a pang to do this; I confess freely that, to part the lands, and to leave it away from Milly, and to think it was Sarah and not me who had provided for that dear child, went to my heart; but I would rather have died than refused justice to my sister’s son.

Luigi came round to my side and took my two hands and kissed them. I was so wicked as to dislike it just at that moment, and to think it was one of his Italian ways. But he stood before me with tears in his eyes, and that look of the Mortimers, which nobody could mistake. “And your love?” he said. I could not stand out against that; I broke down entirely, and cried and sobbed like a child. Dreadful days these had been! Now I was overpowered, and could do no more. When I rose to go upstairs Luigi drew my arm into his, and took care of me like a son. He begged me to go to Milly, and not to be by myself; and I cannot tell how, but his voice had so great an effect upon me, that I did just as he said. Oh, dear! dear! to think what Sarah had cast away from her. There was she, lying alone, rejecting every creature in the world but Carson,—and here was the love that belonged to her, coming to me.

I did not see Mr. Cresswell again before he went away. Sara came up a little after, in despair, saying he had ordered her to return with him, and came and hugged me silently, and cried, with a frightened look upon her pale little face. “I would say farewell to godmamma Sarah, if I dared,” cried the poor child; but I dared not let her do it. She went away, casting longing looks back at us like a creature condemned. It was natural that she should feel leaving us in so much trouble, and going back to her own quiet, motionless home. It was not Sara’s fault she had not been watching with us every moment of that terrible night; but, for all that, it was very right of Mr. Cresswell to take her away.

And then some days of watching followed. Once Sarah admitted me into her room, and she saw the doctor without{363} making any objection—she would have lived still, had that been possible—but when I begged her to see Luigi, just to say one word to him, to let him believe she recognised him as her son, her looks grew so terrible that I dared not say more. He went himself, out of my knowledge, to her door, and begged and prayed to be let in; but Carson came out to him, pallid with terror, and begged him to go away, or he would kill Miss Mortimer—for they kept up that farce of a name to the end. Luigi came to me heart-broken; it was, indeed, a terrible position for the young man. He reproached himself for seeking his natural rights, and bringing on all this misery. He said, “I have killed my mother!” It was all I could do to comfort him. God forgive her! it was not he who was to blame.

This was how my sister Sarah died. I try never to think of it. I try not to remember that dreadful time. Thank heaven! to judge others is not our part in this life. There is very little comfort to be had out of it, anyhow; living and dying it was a sad existence for a woman. If she had not much love in her lifetime, I think there are few graves over which have been shed more bitter tears. On her tombstone she is called Countess Sermoneta; the first time she has ever borne that ill-fated name.

It was not difficult to prove the whole history. By degrees Mr. Cresswell gathered enough from other sources to convince him of Luigi’s story; and after that it did not take much persuasion to make him consent to give my nephew his daughter. It was not the match he might have made, of course. The Sermonetas are a very old family in their own country; not much wonder the Count would not consent to give up his own name, and take the name of the haughty Englishman that despised him. Luigi would have changed his, had his mother bidden him, and for his father’s sake; but the young man was deeply grateful to me for not making any conditions. For my part, I did not want him to be the representative of the Mortimers. I may safely say I came to love him like a child of my own at last. But after all he was a foreigner still, and even when I came to be fond of him, I never could see him without pain mixing with the pleasure. It was Harry, little Harry, my sweet English baby, Milly’s beautiful boy, that was to be the Mortimers’ heir.

And Sara will not be married till Harry Langham comes home. Perhaps it is not justice to Sara to say my nephew might have done better; but, after all, you know, her father is{364} only an attorney, our family attorney. Her hair is grown now, and she is a little older, and very pretty; very pretty indeed the little creature is. She is not in the least like what my sister Sarah used to be; she can never be such a beauty as her poor godmamma was. If it were nothing else, she is too little for beauty; but I must say she is extremely pretty. I don’t know if there is such another in all Cheshire. My Milly is different. Of the two I should rather have her; but then I am not a young man.

And the war is over, and the dear child is nervously happy, and counting the days. About another week or so and Harry Langham will be at home.{365}



Harry is home, safe and well. He is to get the Medjidie and the French ribbon of honour; but you can see that in the papers. It is something else I have to tell.

It is just a week before Sara’s marriage day, and Lizzie comes to me looking very foolish. I had thought she had recovered of her awkwardness. There she stands, twisting her feet again, rolling up her arms in her white apron, holding her head to one side in a paroxysm of her old use and wont. Really, if she were not standing in such a preposterous attitude, Lizzie would look rather pretty; she has such a nice complexion, and her red-brown hair pleases me—it is not too red. It suits those features which are not at all regular, but only very pleasant and bright, with health, and youth, and a good heart. But now there is something dreadful choking Lizzie, which must be got out.

“Mem, the Captain’s come hame,” came at last in a burst.

He was brevet Major now, and most people about the Park called him Colonel; and he was in the next room, no further off, so I rather stared at Lizzie’s piece of news.

“And wee Mr. Harry, he’s a grand little gentleman,” said Lizzie; “and a’s weel, and there’s no cloud in a’ the sky as big as the dear bairn’s little finger, let abee a man’s hand.”

This solemn enumeration of my joys alarmed me considerably. “Do you know of anything that has happened, Lizzie?” I cried with a momentary return of my old fears.

“Naething’s gaun to happen,” said Lizzie, “I’m meaning no to you; naething but the blessing of God that kens a’. It was just to say——”

Here Lizzie came to a dead stop, and cried, the unfailing resource in all difficulties. A perception of the truth flashed upon me as I looked at her.{366}

“Do you mean to say——?” cried I, but got no further in my extreme amaze.

“Eh, it’s no me!” cried Lizzie. “But eh, Menico says——”

Here she stopped again, gave me a frightened look, made an attempt to go on—and finally, startled by a sound in the next room, where Harry was, dropped the apron she had unconsciously pulled off, on the floor, and fairly ran away.

Leaving me thunderstruck, and by no means pleased. I knew if I went and told Harry he would burst into fits of laughter, and there would be an end to all serious consideration of the subject. To lose Lizzie all at once like this, to let the creature go and marry a foreigner! There was something quite unbearable in the thought; what was I to do? A foreigner, and a Catholic, too, and a man twice as old as herself; the girl was mad! The more I thought of it the more distressed I grew. At last I went to seek Aunt Milly, who was the only practicable counsellor. She was in the garden, and I went to seek her there. It was July, and sultry weather. In the hall, now better occupied than it used to be, stood Domenico, in the white suit, vast and spotless, with which he always distinguished himself in summer weather, and which always put me in mind of that dreadful day when the Count Sermoneta first came, in his own name, to the Park. Domenico started forward, noiseless and smiling, to open the door. The action brought before me in a minute our little Chester lodgings, our troubled happy days, our parting, and all the simple kindness this honest fellow had done us. His face beamed through all my recollections of that time, always thus starting forward with the courtesy of the heart. My heart warmed to him in spite of all I had been cogitating against him. Perhaps he divined what it was occupied my thoughts—he followed me out at the door.

“It pleases to the Signora give me the Leezee?” said Domenico, with an insinuating look. “No? no? But what to have done? The Signora displeases herself of me? Wherefore? Because? I not know.”

“I am not displeased,” said I. “You are a very good fellow, Domenico, and have always been very kind. But she is a child; she is not seventeen. What would you do with her in a strange country? She is too young for you.”

“The Leezee contents herself,” said Domenico, with a broad smile opening out his black beard. “If it pleases to the Signora, I bring her back other times; I take the care of her;{367} I make everything please to her. The Signora not wills to say no?”

And of course I did not say no; I had no right to say anything of the sort. And Lizzie actually was not afraid to marry that mountain of a man. She went away with him, looking dreadfully ashamed, and taking the most heartrending farewell of little Harry and me, Domenico looking on with great but smiling sympathy all the while, and not at all resenting her tears. But the Captain had come home, and little Harry had attained the independence of two and a half years. Lizzie felt she had discharged her trust, and was no longer imperatively needed to take care of me. I kissed her when she went away, as if she had been a sister of my own, and I confess was not ashamed to add a tear to the floods that poured from her brown eyes; but I am obliged to avow that it is not within the range of my powers to put correctly on paper all the long rolling syllables of her new name.





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683 Man of the World.
684 King and Countess.

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687 Colonel Dacre.
688 My Son’s Wife.
689 Entanglements.
690 Mr. Arle.
691 Bruna’s Revenge.
692 Pearl.
693 Caste.

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696 Margaret Catchpole.
697 The Suffolk Gipsy.

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698 Beautiful Edith.
699 Sun and Shade.
700 Ursula’s Love Story.

703 His Book; and Travels among the Mormons.
704 Letters to Punch;
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705 Condoned.
706 Gardenhurst.
707 Broken Toys.

    By Mrs. WHITNEY.
710 Odd or Even?

711 Twelve Months of Matrimony.
712 The Brilliant Marriage.

715 Squanders of Castle Squander.

    By W. S. MAYO.
720 Never Again.
721 The Berber.

    By Mrs. FORRESTER.
722 Olympus to Hades.
723 Fair Women.

724 Faces for Fortunes.
724A Paved with Gold.

725 Leyton Hall.

    By Miss BURNEY.
726 Evelina.

728 Unrequited Affection.

732 The Scottish Chiefs.

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{376}     By HANS C. ANDERSEN.
734 The Improvisatore.

735 A Bad Beginning.
736 Wild as a Hawk.
737 Forgotten by the World.

741 Genevieve, and The Stonemason.

744 Debit and Credit.

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745 Charlie Nugent.
746 St. Aubyn of St. Aubyn’s.

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747 The Heir at Law.
748 Romance of the Seas.
748A Privateer Captain.

749 Tales of Mystery, &c.

750 Paid in Full.

752 Helen.

754 Royston Gower.

    By Mrs. S. C. HALL.
756 The Whiteboy.

757 The Lost Bride.

758 Dr. Austin’s Guests.

759 Melincourt.

761 Maretimo.

762 Jacob Bendixen.
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763 The Only Child.

    By Bros. MAYHEW.
765 The Image of his Father.

768 Highland Lassies.

    By S. W. R.
769 Rose Douglas.

770 O. V. H.
770A Ensemble.

771 Esther’s Sacrifice.

    By A. MANNING.
772 Ladies of Bever Hollow.

773 Madeleine.

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774 Hagarene.

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777 Lilian’s Penance.

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778 Off the Line.

779 Queen of Herself.

780 A Fatal Error.

781 Mainstone’s Housekeeper.

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782 Wild Hyacinth.

    By Baroness DE BURY.
783 All for Greed.

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785 Kelverdale.

786 Dark and Light Stories.

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{377}     By Miss STEVENS.
789 Zana, the Gipsy.

790 Margaret.

791 The Conspirators.

    By G. R. GLEIG.
792 Chelsea Pensioners.

793 A Lease for Lives.

Ed. by Sir E. WRAXALL.
794 The Backwoodsman.

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795 Almost a Quixote.

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797 Margaret’s Ordeal.

798 Philiberta.

799 Our Helen.

800 Little Ragamuffins.

802 Abbot of Aberbrothock.

804 Guilty or Not Guilty?

805 Miranda.

    By Countess DE LA MOTTE.
806 The Diamond Necklace.

    By Captain FLACK.
807 Castaways of the Prairie.

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808 Hunt-Room Stories and Yachting Yarns. Illustrated.

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809 The Margravine.
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810 The Conscript’s Revenge.
811 James Tacket.

    By Mrs. J. K. SPENDER.
814 Godwyn’s Ordeal.

    By Mrs. KENNARD.
818 The Right Sort.

    By Mrs. PIRKIS.
825 Wanted an Heir.

826 Jenny Jennett.

828 A Sporting Quixote.

830 Through Troubled Waters.

834 Pigskin and Willow.

850 Beatrice.
851 Modern Accomplishments.
852 Holiday House.
853 Modern Flirtations.
854 Mysterious Marriage.

856 Five Weeks in a Balloon.
857 English at the North Pole.
858 Among the Cannibals.
859 A Journey to the Interior of the Earth.

876 The Great Invasion.
877 Campaign In Kabylia.
878 Waterloo.
879 The Man-Wolf.
880 The Blockade.
881 The States-General.
882 Citizen Bonaparte.
883 Year One of the Republic.
884 Daniel Rock.

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{378} 885 Friend Fritz.
886 The Conscript.

    By Mrs. LEITH ADAMS.
900 Aunt Hepsy’s Foundling.

905 Diary of a late Physician.
906 Ten Thousand a-Year.

920 Introduced to Society.

925 Yellowplush Correspondence, & Fitz-Boodle Papers, &c.

951 Grace Tolmar.
952 The World we Live In.
953 A Woman’s Reputation.

    By E. WERNER.
960 Riven Bonds.
961 Sacred Vows.

965 An American Politician.
966 To Leeward.

971 In the Clouds.
972 Story of Keedon Bluffs.

    By Prof. WILSON.
981 Tales of the Border. I.
982  ———————   II.
983  ———————   III.
984  ———————   IV.
1001 The Tiger Slayer.
1002 Last of the Incas.
1003 Pirates of the Prairie.
1004 The Prairie Flower.
1005 The Trapper’s Daughter.
1006 The White Scalper.
1007 The Indian Chief.

1021 Vivian Grey.
1022 Coningsby.
1023 Henrietta Temple.
1024 Venetia.
1025 Sybil.
1026 Alroy, and Contarini Fleming.
1027 The Young Duke.

1031 In Deadly Peril.

1051 The Crescent and Cross.

1060 Count of Monte Cristo.

767 Belial.
776 First in the Field.
788 Leah, the Jewish Maiden.
796 Janetta, and Blythe Herndon.
803 Life in a Prison.
813 Tales of Tramps. Illust.
1102 Remarkable Impostors and Celebrated Claimants.



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1From Post to Finish. Hawley Smart.
2A False Start. Hawley Smart.
3The Right Sort. Mrs. E. Kennard.
4O. V. H.; or, How Mr. Blake Became Master of Fox-Hounds. Wat Bradwood.
5The Flyers of the Hunt. John Mills.
6Tilbury Nogo. J. G. Whyte-Melville.
7Hunt-Room Stories. “Wanderer.”
8The Flying Scud. C. C. Clarke.
9A Sporting Quixote. Samuel Laing.
10 Stable Secrets, and The Life of a Racehorse. John Mills.

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