A bankrupt heart, Vol. 1 (of 3)

By Florence Marryat

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Title: A bankrupt heart, Vol. 1 (of 3)

Author: Florence Marryat

Release date: July 5, 2024 [eBook #73972]

Language: English

Original publication: London: F. V. White & Co, 1894

Credits: Carol Brown, Emmanuel Ackerman and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)


                           A BANKRUPT HEART.

                           A BANKRUPT HEART.


                           FLORENCE MARRYAT,

                               AUTHOR OF
                               ETC., ETC.

                          _IN THREE VOLUMES._

                                VOL. I.


                           F. V. WHITE & CO.,
                    14 BEDFORD STREET, STRAND, W.C.


    _This story being already dramatised, all rights are reserved._



                        CHAPTER I.           1

                        CHAPTER II.         26

                        CHAPTER III.        40

                        CHAPTER IV.         60

                        CHAPTER V.          87

                        CHAPTER VI.        120

                        CHAPTER VII.       144

                        CHAPTER VIII.      168

                        CHAPTER IX.        186

                        CHAPTER X.         213

                           A BANKRUPT HEART.

                           A BANKRUPT HEART.

                               CHAPTER I.

Miss Llewellyn was standing at the window of her own room, in the
house of Lord Ilfracombe in Grosvenor Square, gazing at the dust-laden
and burnt-up leaves and grass in the gardens before her. It was an
afternoon towards the close of July, and all the fashionable world was
already out of town. Miss Llewellyn had been reared in the country, and
she could not help thinking how that same sun that had burnt up all the
verdure of which London could boast, had glorified the vegetation of
far-off Wales. How it must have enriched the pasture lands, and ripened
the waving corn, and decked the very hedges and ditches with beautiful,
fresh flowers, which were to be had for the gathering. Her thoughts
went back to rural Usk where King Arthur built a bower for Guinevere,
and in fancy she felt the cool air blowing over its fragrant fields and
woods. She heaved a deep sigh as she remembered the place of her birth,
and, as if in reproach for such heresy to her present condition, she
drew a letter from her pocket and opened its pages.

Miss Llewellyn nominally held an inferior position in the house of
the Earl of Ilfracombe. She was his housekeeper. Old-fashioned people
who associate their ideas of a housekeeper with the image of a staid,
middle-aged woman, whose sole business is to guard the morals and
regulate the duties of the maidens of the establishment, would have
stared at the notion of calling Miss Llewellyn by that name. All the
same she was a very fair specimen of the up-to-date housekeeper of a
rich bachelor of the present time, with one exception, perhaps. She was
handsome beyond the majority of women. Her figure was a model. Tall and
graceful without being thin, with a beautiful bust and shoulders, and
a skin like white satin, Miss Llewellyn also possessed a face such
as is seldom met with, even in these isles of boasted female beauty.
Her features would have suited a princess. They were those of a carved
Juno. Her abundant rippling hair was of a bright chestnut colour; her
eyes dark hazel, like the tawny eyes of the leopardess; her lips full
and red; and her complexion naturally as radiant as it usually is with
women of her nationality, though London air had toned it down to a
pale cream tint. She was quietly, but well-dressed, too well dressed
for one in her station of life perhaps, but that would depend on the
wages she earned and the appearance she was expected to make. Her gown
of some light black material, like mousseline-de-laine, or canvas
cloth, was much trimmed with lace, and on her wrists she wore heavy
gold bangles. Her beautiful hair was worn in the prevailing fashion,
and round her white throat was a velvet band, clasped by a diamond
brooch. The room, too, which Miss Llewellyn occupied, and which was
exclusively her own, was far beyond what we should associate with the
idea of a dependant. It was a species of half study, half boudoir, and
on the drawing-room floor, furnished by Liberty, and replete with every
comfort and luxury. Yet Miss Llewellyn did not look out of place in it;
on the contrary, she would have graced a far handsomer apartment by her
presence. To whatever station of life she had been brought up, it was
evident that circumstances, or habit, had made her quite familiar with
her surroundings. As she perused the letter she drew from her pocket
for perhaps the twentieth time she looked rather pale and anxious,
as though she did not quite comprehend its meaning. Yet it seemed a
very ordinary epistle, and one which anybody might have read over her
shoulder with impunity. It was written in rather an irregular and
unformed hand for a man of thirty, and showed symptoms of a wavering
and unsteadfast character.

     ‘DEAR N.,--I find I may be absent from England longer
     than I thought, so don’t stay cooped up in town this
     beastly hot weather, but take a run down to Brighton, or
     any watering-place you may fancy. Warrender can look
     after the house. Malta is a deal hotter than London as
     you may imagine, but I have made several friends here and
     enjoy the novelty of the place. They won’t let me off, I
     expect, under another month or two, so I shall miss the
     grouse this season. However, I’m bound to be back in time
     for the partridges. Be sure and take a good holiday and
     freshen yourself up. Have you seen Sterndale yet? If not,
     you will soon. He has something to tell you. Whatever
     happens, remember your welfare will always be my first
     consideration.--Yours truly,

Miss Llewellyn read these words over and over again, without arriving
at any conclusion respecting their meaning.

‘What can he mean?’ she thought; ‘why should I see Mr Sterndale, and
what can he possibly have to tell me, that I do not already know? I
hope Ilfracombe is not going to do anything so stupid as to make a
settlement on me, for I will not accept it. I much prefer to go on in
the dear old way, and owe all I have to him. Has not my welfare always
been his care? Dear Ilfracombe! How I wish I could persuade him to come
home and go to Abergeldie instead! I am sure he runs a great risk out
in that horrid climate, especially after the attack of fever he had
last autumn. If he were to fall sick again, without me to nurse him,
what should I do?’

As she spoke thus to herself, she turned involuntarily towards a
painted photograph which stood in a silver frame on a side-table. It
represented a good-looking young man in a rough shooting suit, with
a gun over his shoulder. It was a handsome and aristocratic face,
but a weak one, as was evidenced by the prominent blue eyes and the
receding chin and mouth, which latter, however, was nearly hidden by
a flaxen moustache. It is not difficult to discover with what sort of
feeling a woman regards a man if you watch her as she is looking at his
likeness. As Miss Llewellyn regarded that of Lord Ilfracombe, her face,
so proud in its natural expression, softened until it might have been
that of a mother gloating over her first-born. So inextricably is the
element of protective love interwoven with the feelings of every true
woman for the man who possesses her heart. The tears even rose to Miss
Llewellyn’s handsome eyes, as she gazed at Lord Ilfracombe’s picture,
but she brushed them away with a nervous laugh.

‘How foolish,’ she said to herself, ‘and when I am the happiest and
most fortunate woman in all the world, and would not change my lot with
the Queen herself. And so undeserving of it all, too.’

Women who honestly love, invariably think themselves unworthy of their
good fortune, when, perhaps, and very often too, the boot (to use a
vulgar expression) is on the other foot. But love always makes us
humble. If it does not, it is love of ourselves, and not of our lovers.

A sudden impulse seemed to seize Miss Llewellyn, and, sitting down to
her pretty writing-table, she drew out pen, ink and paper, and wrote

     ‘MY DEAREST,--Do you think I could enjoy a holiday without
     you? No! Whilst you are away, my place is here, watching
     over your interests, and when you return I shall be too
     happy to leave you. But come back as soon as you can. I
     don’t want to spoil your pleasure, but I am so afraid for
     your health. You get so careless when you are alone. Don’t
     go bathing in cold water when you are hot, nor eating things
     which you know from experience disagree with you. You will
     laugh at my cautions, but if you only knew how I love you
     and miss you, you would sympathise with my anxiety--’

Miss Llewellyn had written thus far, when a tap sounded on the door of
her room, and on her giving permission to enter, a servant appeared and
addressed her with all the deference usually extended to the mistress
of a house.

‘If you please, ma’am, there is a young man and woman from Usk below,
who want to speak to you.’

Miss Llewellyn became crimson, and then paled to the tint of a white

‘From Usk, Mary?’ she repeated; ‘are you sure? I don’t expect anybody
this evening. What is the name?’

‘Oh, I’m quite sure, ma’am. They said their name was Owen, and they
asked particularly for Miss Llewellyn, the housekeeper.’

‘What is the young woman like?’

‘Rather nice-looking, ma’am, that is, for a person from the country.
I’m sure they’re not Londoners from the way they speak, though I don’t
know where Usk is; but she’s got nice curly hair, much the colour of
yours, ma’am.’

‘Well, well, show them into the housekeeper’s room, Mary, or stay, as
his lordship is away, you may as well put them in the library, and say
I will be with them in a minute.’

As soon as the servant had left her, Miss Llewellyn ran up to her
bedroom, with her hand tightly pressed over her heart, and commenced to
rapidly pull off her ornaments, and to take a plainer dress out of her

‘If it should be a message from mother,’ she murmured breathlessly, as
she stripped off her finery, ‘they mustn’t go back and say they found
me like this. Dear, dear mother. She would break her heart to find out
the meaning of it all.’

She threw the black lace dress upon the bed, and selecting a
quaker-looking fawn cashmere from her wardrobe, put it on instead, and
having somewhat smoothed down her rippling hair, she tied on a black
silk apron, and took her way down to the library. She opened the door
with a beating heart, for she had begun to fear lest the strangers
might prove to be the bearers of bad news to her, but the moment
she set eyes on the figure of the young woman, she gave vent to an
exclamation of surprise and delight, and rushed into her extended arms.

‘Hetty! Hetty!’ she cried hysterically, ‘my own dear sister! Oh, how is
it you are in London? Why did you not tell me you were coming? You have
not brought bad news, have you? Oh, don’t tell me that mother is ill,
for I couldn’t bear it.’

‘No, Nell, no!’ exclaimed the younger sister, ‘they are all as well
at home as can be. Mother and father are just beautiful, and the
crops first-rate. But we--that is, Will and I--thought we would give
you such a grand surprise. We have such news for you! You’d never
guess it, Nell! Don’t you see who’s this with me? William Owen, our
old play-mate! Well, he’s my husband. We were married the day before

‘Married!’ repeated Miss Llewellyn, incredulously. ‘Little Hester,
who was always such a baby compared to me, really married. This is a
surprise!’ And to prove how much she thought it so, Miss Llewellyn sat
down on a sofa and burst into tears.

‘Oh, Nelly! you are not vexed because we did not tell you sooner, are
you?’ cried Hetty, kneeling down beside her sister. ‘We thought you
would like the grand surprise, dear, and I made Will promise that
the first thing he did was to bring me up to London town to see my
beautiful sister Nell! And oh, Nell, you do look such a lady. I’m sure
I feel so countrified beside you, I can’t say.’

‘You look too sweet for anything,’ replied Miss Llewellyn kissing her,
‘and I was only crying a little for joy, Hetty, to think you are so
happy. But what a child to be married! Why, how old are you? Not more
than seventeen, surely!’

‘Oh, yes, Nell; you have not been home for such a time, you forget
how it goes on. I was twenty-one last spring, dear; and you are
twenty-four! But how different you are from what you used to be. Is it
London life that makes you so grand? You look like a queen beside me!
You must think I am a bumpkin in my wedding clothes.’

‘Nonsense, dear Hetty. One is obliged to be more particular in town
than in the country. Besides, I am filling an important situation, you
know, and am expected to dress up to it.’

‘Oh yes, I was telling Will all the way down from Usk, what a fine
place you have, and such a rich master. Oh, Nell! is he at home? Lord
Ilfracombe I mean. I should love to go back and tell them that I had
seen a lord.’

‘No, Hetty, he is away in Malta, and not likely to be back for some
time. But I’ve not spoken to my new brother-in-law yet. I suppose you
can scarcely remember me, Will. Five years is a long time to be absent
from the old home.’

‘Oh! I remember you well enough,’ replied the young man shamefacedly,
for he was rather taken aback at encountering such a fine lady, instead
of the maid-servant he had expected to see. ‘I and my brother Hugh used
to have fine games of cricket with you and my little Hetty here, on the
island years and years ago. I suppose you’ve heard that Hugh has been
elected to the ministry since you left Usk, Miss Llewellyn?’

‘No, indeed, I do not think that Hetty has ever mentioned it in her
letters to me. But I remember your brother quite well. He was a very
tall, shy lad, fonder of reading than anything else, even when a little

‘Yes, that’s Hugh,’ replied the young man, ‘and he hasn’t forgotten you
either, I can answer for that.’

‘I suppose it makes you all very proud to have a minister in the
family, William?’ said Miss Llewellyn kindly.

‘That it does; and he’s a fine preacher too, as Hetty here can tell
you, and draws the people to hear him for miles round, so that the
parson up at the church is quite jealous of Hugh’s influence with his
parishioners. And that’s something to be proud of, isn’t it?’

‘It is indeed. And what are you, Will?’

‘Oh, he’s a farmer, Nell,’ interposed Hetty, ‘and we are to live with
his parents at Dale Farm as soon as we go back. So poor mother will be
left alone. Oh, Nell, how I wish you could come back to Panty-cuckoo
Farm, and stay with mother, now she’s lost me.’

Miss Llewellyn flushed scarlet at the idea.

‘Hetty, how could I? How could I leave my place where I have been for
so many years now, to go back and be a burden on my parents? Besides,
dear, I’m used to town life, and don’t think I should know how to get
on in the country.’

‘But you care for mother surely?’ said her sister, somewhat
reproachfully; ‘and you can’t think how bad she’s been with sciatica
this spring, quite doubled-up at times, and Dr Cowell says it’s bound
to come back in the autumn. I’m sure I don’t know what she’ll do if
it does! You should have heard how she used to cry out for you in the
spring, Nell. She’s always wanting her beautiful daughter. I’m nothing
to mother, and never have been, compared to you. And I’ve heard her
say, dozens of times, that she wished that London town had been burned
to the ground before the agency office had persuaded you to take
service here. They do seem so hard on servants in this place. Here have
you been five years away from home, and never once a holiday! I think
Lord Ilfracombe must be very mean not to think that a servant girl
would want to see her own people once in a way!’

‘You mustn’t blame Lord Ilfracombe, Hetty!’ said her sister, hastily,
‘for it’s not his fault. He would let me go to Usk if I asked him, I
daresay; but I have the charge of all the other servants you see, and
where would the house be without me? It is not as if there was a lady
at the head of affairs.’

‘Then why doesn’t he marry and get his wife to do all that for him?’
demanded Hetty, with the audacity of ignorance. ‘It does seem strange
that a gentleman with such a heap of money should remain a bachelor.
What does he do with it all, I wonder? And what is the good of such
a big house to a man without a wife? Wouldn’t you rather that he was
married, Nell? It must be so funny taking all your orders from a man.’

‘You don’t understand, Hetty,’ said Miss Llewellyn. ‘Lord Ilfracombe
does not give me any orders. He never interferes in the household
arrangements. It is to save himself all that trouble that he has
engaged me. I hardly ever see him--that is, about dinners, or anything
of that sort. When he is going to have a party, he tells me the number
of people whom he expects, and I prepare for them accordingly. But this
is all beyond your comprehension. It is past five o’clock. You and
William will be glad of some tea.’

Miss Llewellyn rose and rang the bell as she spoke, and having given
her orders to a very magnificent looking footman, at whose servility
Hetty stared, she resumed the conversation.

‘Where are you two staying in town?’

‘We have some rooms in Oxford Street,’ replied her sister. ‘Do you
remember Mrs Potter, Nell, who took Mrs Upjohn’s cottage when her
husband died? Her sister lets lodgings, and when she heard we were
coming to London for our honeymoon, she wrote to her sister to take us
in, and we are very comfortable there, aren’t we, Will? And it’s such a
grand situation, such lots of things to see; and Mrs Potter said, as it
might be our last chance for many a day, we ought to see as much as we
could whilst we are here.’

‘I think she is quite right,’ replied Miss Llewellyn, smiling; ‘and
I should like to add to your pleasure if possible. Will you come out
with me and have some dinner after your tea, and go to a theatre in the

‘Oh, Nell, we had our dinner at one o’clock--roast pork and French
beans, and very good it was, I suppose, for London town, though
nothing like our pork at Usk. And aren’t the strawberries and cherries
dear here? Will gave sixpence this morning for a leaf of fruit that
you’d throw over the hedge to a beggar child in Usk. I told the woman
in the shop that she ought to come to Panty-cuckoo Farm if she wanted
to see strawberries; but she said she had never heard of such a place.’

‘I think you’ll be quite ready for the dinner, Hetty, for you will find
our London teas very different from country ones,’ said Miss Llewellyn,
as the footman reappeared with a teapot and cups and saucers, and a
plate of very thin bread and butter on a silver tray; ‘and the theatre
will keep us up rather late. I suppose you have been nowhere yet?’

No, of course they had been nowhere, and Miss Llewellyn selected the
Adelphi as the theatre most likely to give them pleasure.

‘Nell,’ whispered Hetty, in a tone of awe as they found themselves once
more alone, ‘do you always have a silver tray to eat your tea off?’

Nell coloured. She found a little evasion would be necessary in order
to circumvent the sharp eyes of her sister.

‘Not always, Hetty,’ she answered; ‘but as nobody else wants it just
now, I suppose John thought we might as well have the advantage of it.
When the cat’s away, you know, the mice will play. And we can’t wear it
out by using it a little.’

Hetty looked thoughtful.

‘But I think mother would say,’ she answered after a pause, ‘that we
ought not to use it unless Lord Ilfracombe knew of it and gave his
leave. I remember once when Annie Roberts came to tea with me, and
boasted of having brought her mistress’s umbrella because she was away
and it looked like rain, mother sent her straight home again, and
threatened if Annie did not tell Mrs Carey of what she had done, that
she would tell her herself.’

Miss Llewellyn looked just a little vexed. One might have seen that by
the way she bit her lip and tapped the carpet with her neat little shoe.

‘But your sister is not in the same position as Annie Roberts,
Hetty, my dear,’ interposed William Owen, observing their hostess’s

‘No, that is just it,’ said Miss Llewellyn, recovering herself. ‘I am
allowed--all the servants know that they may bring these things up
to me when I have friends. Life in London is so different from life
in the country--one expects more privileges. But there, Hetty, dear,
don’t let us speak of it any more. You don’t quite understand, but you
may be sure I would not do anything of which Lord Ilfracombe would not

‘Oh, no, dear Nell, indeed you need not have told me that. I was only
a little surprised. I am not used to such fine things, you know, and I
just thought if your master was to walk in, how astonished he would be.’

‘Not at all,’ said Miss Llewellyn gaily. ‘You don’t know how good and
kind he is to us all. He would just laugh and tell us to go on enjoying
ourselves. But if we are to go to the theatre, I must run up and put on
my things. William, will you have a glass of wine before we start? I
have a bottle of my own, so Hetty need not think I am going to drink
Lord Ilfracombe’s.’

Young Owen refused the wine, but Hetty was eager to accompany her
sister to her bedroom. This was just what Miss Llewellyn did not wish
her to do. She was in a quandary. But her woman’s wit (some people
would say, her woman’s trick of lying) came to her aid, and she

‘Come upstairs with me by all means, Hetty. I should like you to see
the house, but I will take you to one of the spare bedrooms, for mine
is not habitable just at present. Plasterers and painters all over that
floor. Come in here,’ and she turned as she spoke into a magnificently
furnished apartment usually reserved for Lord Ilfracombe’s guests.

Hetty stared with all her eyes at the magnificence surrounding her.

‘Oh, Nell, how I wish mother could see this. It looks fit for a duchess
to me.’

‘Well, it was actually a duke who slept in it last, you little goose,’
cried Miss Llewellyn, as she hastily assumed a bonnet and mantle which
she had desired a servant to fetch from her own chamber. ‘But I don’t
think he was worthy of it. A nasty, bloated little fellow, with a face
covered with pimples, and an eyeglass always stuck in his eye.’

‘Doesn’t Lord Ilfracombe wear an eyeglass, Nell?’

‘Oh, no, thank goodness. I wouldn’t--’ But here Miss Llewellyn checked
herself suddenly, and added,--‘I mean, he would never do anything so
silly. He can see perfectly well, and does not need a glass. But come,
Hetty, dear, we are going to walk down to the theatre, so we had better
start if we wish to get good seats.’

As they entered the porch of the Adelphi, a sudden thought struck
innocent Hetty. She sidled up to her sister and whispered,--

‘You must let William pay for our places, Nell.’

‘Nonsense, child, what are you thinking of? This is _my_ treat. I asked
you to come as my guests.’

‘But it isn’t fair,’ continued the little bumpkin, ‘for you to pay for
us all out of your wages. Won’t it cramp you for the next quarter,

‘No, dear, no; I have plenty for us all,’ returned her sister hastily,
as she paid for three places in the dress circle, and conducted her
relations to their destination. Here, seated well out of observation
of the stalls, as she thought, Miss Llewellyn felt free for the next
two hours at least, to remain quiet and think, an operation for which
she had had no time since her sister had burst in so unexpectedly upon
her. William and Hetty had naturally no eyes except for the play, the
like of which they had never seen before. They followed the sensational
incidents of one of Sim’s and Buchanan’s melodramas with absorbing
interest. The varied scenes; the clap-trap changes; the pretty dresses,
all chained them, eyes and ears, to the stage, whilst an occasional
breathless exclamation from Hetty, of ‘Oh, Nell, isn’t that beautiful?’
was all the demand they made upon her attention. She had seen the piece
before, and if she had not done so, she had no heart to attend to it
now. Her memories of home, and the old life she had led there, had
all been awakened by the sight of her sister and the manner she had
spoken of it; and while Hetty was engrossed by the novel scenes before
her, Miss Llewellyn was in fancy back again at Panty-cuckoo Farm,
where she had been born and bred. She was wandering down the steep
path which led to the farmhouse, bordered on either side by whitened
stones to enable the drivers to keep to it in the dark, and which had
given the dear old place its fanciful name of ‘The Cuckoo’s Dell.’ She
could see the orchard of apple and pear trees, which grew around the
house itself, and under which the pigs were digging with their black
snouts for such succulent roots as their swinish souls loved. She sat
well back in her seat listening to the notes of the cuckoo from the
neighbouring thicket, and the woods that skirted the domains of General
Sir Archibald Bowmant, who was the principal landowner for many miles
around Usk at that period. What a marvellous, magnificent place she
had thought the General’s house once, when she had been admitted to
view the principal rooms, by especial favour of the housekeeper. And
now--why, they were nothing compared to Lord Ilfracombe’s, the man whom
little Hetty had called her ‘master.’ ‘And a very good name for him,
too,’ thought Miss Llewellyn, as she finished her musings, ‘for he is
my master, body and soul.’

                              CHAPTER II.

At the close of the second act, as she was urging her sister and
brother-in-law to take some refreshment, she was disagreeably
interrupted by hearing a voice which she recognised as that of
Mr Portland, a friend of Lord Ilfracombe’s. Jack Portland (as he
was usually called by his own sex) was a man whom Miss Llewellyn
particularly disliked, on account of his bad influence over the Earl.
He was a well-known betting and sporting man, who lived on the turf,
and whose lead Lord Ilfracombe was, unfortunately, but too ready to
follow. She shrunk back as she encountered him, but Mr Portland was not
easily rebuffed.

‘Ah, Miss Llewellyn,’ he exclaimed, as he scrambled over the vacant
seats to reach her side, ‘is this really you? I thought I recognised
you from the stalls, but could hardly believe my eyes. What are you
doing in the dress circle? I have always seen you in a box before.’

‘I am with friends, Mr Portland,’ replied Miss Llewellyn, with visible
annoyance; ‘and one can see a play like this much better from the
circle. We have been enjoying it very much.’

‘You must be pretty well sick of it by this time, I should think,’
returned Mr Portland, with his glass stuck in his eye, ‘for I’ve seen
you here twice with Ilfracombe already. By the way, how is Ilfracombe?
When did you hear from him last?’

Miss Llewellyn was on thorns.

‘Will you excuse me, Mr Portland,’ she said, with a face of crimson,
‘but I and my friends were just going to have some ices at the buffet.’

‘By Jove, but you won’t!’ exclaimed the officious Portland. ‘I will
send them to you. How many do you want? Three?’

‘Yes, three if you please,’ answered Miss Llewellyn, who saw no other
way of getting rid of her tormentor, and dreaded what he might say
before her sister.

‘Who is that gentleman, Nell?’ inquired Hetty as soon as his back was

‘No one in particular,’ said the other, ‘only an acquaintance of Lord
Ilfracombe’s. Don’t take any notice of him, Hetty. He talks a lot of

She was praying all the time that Mr Portland, having given his orders
to the waiter, might see he was not wanted, and go back to his stall.
But he was not the sort of man who gives something for nothing. He
meant to be paid for the attention, though in his own coin. The waiter
soon appeared bearing the tray of ices and wafers, and in his train
came Mr Jack Portland, smiling as if he knew his welcome was assured.

‘I’ve got you Neapolitan, Miss Llewellyn, you see. I remembered that
Ilfracombe always orders Neapolitan. By the way, you never told me the
contents of his last letter. He’s very gay at Malta I hear. Always with
those Abingers. Have you heard of the Abingers? He’s the admiral there.
By George, Miss Llewellyn, I’d recall Ilfracombe if I were you. Send
him home orders, you know. He’s been out there quite long enough, don’t
you think so?’

Miss Llewellyn saw that Hetty and William were listening with open eyes
to this discourse, and did not know how to stop Mr Portland’s tongue.
She would fain have got rid of him altogether, but of the two evils she
chose what seemed to her the least. She lowered her voice, and begged
him to cease his remarks on Lord Ilfracombe till they were alone.

‘That’s the way the land lies,’ he replied, with a wink in the
direction of Hetty. ‘All right, mum’s the word! How deucedly handsome
you are looking to-night,’ he added in a lower voice, as he brought
his bloated face in close proximity to hers. ‘Tell you what, Miss
Llewellyn, Ilfracombe’s a fool!--a d--d fool, by George! to leave such
a face and figure as yours, whilst he goes gallivanting after a set of
noodles at Malta!’

At this remark Nell flushed indignantly, and, turning her back on the
intruder, directed her attention to her sister, upon which Mr Portland,
with a familiar nod, and an easy good-night, took himself away. As
soon as he was out of hearing Hetty pestered Nell to tell her his name,
and to confess if he was anything to her.

‘I can’t say I think he’s handsome,’ she said, with a little _moue_,
‘his face is so red, and he stares so; but do tell me the truth, Nell.
Is he your young man?’

‘My young man? Gracious, no, child! Why, I hate the fellow! I think he
is the most odious, impertinent, presuming person I know! But he is a
friend of Lord Ilfracombe’s, so I am obliged to be civil to him.’

‘Ah, well, I wish you had a young man, Nell, all the same. Mother would
be so glad to hear you were thinking of getting married. She often says
that it is high time you were settled, and that you’re far too handsome
to be single in London, for that it’s a dreadful dangerous place for
girls, and especially if they’re good looking. She _would_ be pleased
to hear you were keeping company with anyone that could keep you like a

‘But I’m not, Hetty, dear, nor likely to be, so you mustn’t get any
ideas of that sort into your head. But let us attend to what is going
on. I hope Will and you are enjoying yourselves.’

‘Oh, lovely!’ said Hetty, with a sigh of ineffable content.

But Miss Llewellyn had not got rid of Mr Portland yet. As she was
pushing her way out of the corridor when the play was over, she found
him again by her side.

‘Will you be at home to-morrow, Miss Llewellyn?’ he asked in a low

‘I believe so. Why?’

‘Because I particularly want to speak to you. May I call about three?’

‘Certainly, if you really wish to speak to me; but I cannot imagine
what you can have to say that you cannot say now?’

‘Oh, that would be quite impossible,’ rejoined Mr Portland, looking her
straight in the eyes; ‘I couldn’t even explain what my business with
you is, but you shall hear all about it if you will be so good as to
receive me about three.’

‘I shall be at home,’ replied Miss Llewellyn coldly, as she pushed her
way out into the street and entered a passing cab with her companions.

‘I shall call for you both to-morrow about six o’clock, Hetty,’ she
said, as she deposited them at the door of their lodgings, ‘and take
you to the Alhambra. You’ll see something there more beautiful than you
have ever seen before.’

‘Oh, Nell, you _are_ good!’ cried her sister; ‘and what a lot of money
you must receive. It makes me wish that I, too, had come up to London
town when you did, and gone to service, for then I might have saved
some money to help Will furnish our rooms. I brought him nothing, you
know, Nell--not even a penny, It seems so sad, doesn’t it?’

‘What nonsense!’ replied Miss Llewellyn. ‘You brought him your true,
pure heart and your honest soul, and they are worth all the money in
the world, Hetty, and I am sure William thinks the same. Good-night. We
shall meet again to-morrow.’

And with a wave of her hand, she drove away to Grosvenor Square.

Her maid was waiting up for her, all consternation to find she had
left the house without calling in her assistance.

‘Dear me, ma’am!’ she exclaimed, as she knelt down on the floor of Miss
Llewellyn’s bedroom to unbutton her dainty boots, ‘to think you could
go out, and me not to dress you. When John told me you had left the
house, and not even taken the carriage, you might have knocked me down
with a feather. And in this dress and mantle, too! Dear, dear, wherever
did you go? Not to the theatre, surely?’

‘Yes, I did,’ responded her mistress. ‘I took some young friends from
the country with me to the Adelphi; and you see, Susan, the fact is,
they are not used to fashionable dressing, so I thought I would not
make them feel uncomfortable by being smarter than themselves.’

‘Many ladies think the same,’ remarked the maid; ‘though I don’t hold
with it, for it’s a real pleasure to look at such dresses as yours,
even if one can’t have ’em for oneself.’

She spoke rather more familiarly than servants usually do to their
mistresses, for she knew perfectly well, though she dared not say
so openly, that Miss Llewellyn was not a gentlewoman any more than
herself, but it was, she thought, to her profit to appear to think so.
The Court favourite is generally the object of adulation and sycophancy
until her reign is over. But Ellen Llewellyn had been accustomed to
subservience for so long now that she had almost forgotten that it was
not hers by right. It was only at times that the truth was borne in
upon her that she held the luxuries of life on an uncertain tenure.
Her maid undressed her, and put her blue cashmere dressing-gown about
her shoulders, and would have hovered around her for an indefinite
period, chattering of every bit of news she had heard that day, but
Miss Llewellyn was in no mood to indulge her, and dismissed her at last
rather abruptly. She wanted to be alone to ponder over the surprise she
had had that afternoon--to dream again of Panty-cuckoo Farm; to wonder
how the dear old garden looked under the July sun; if her mother had
aged much during the last five years; whether her father’s figure was
more bent and his steps feebler--above all, she wanted to communicate
her thoughts to someone who would sympathise with them. She felt too
excited to rest, so she took up her pen again and finished the letter
in the writing of which she had been interrupted that afternoon by her
sister’s arrival.

     ‘I had written thus far, my dearest, when I was interrupted
     by the appearance of my little sister Hetty, from Usk, and
     her husband, William Owen, when I never even knew that they
     were married. Oh, Ilfracombe, I was so surprised! They have
     come up to town for their wedding trip expressly to see me,
     so I felt compelled to show them some attention. But I was
     so nervous! I hurried them out of the house as soon as I
     could, and took them to the Adelphi; and there, who should
     spy us out but Mr Portland, who would keep on talking to me
     of you till I was fairly obliged to run away from him. What
     a fool he must be to speak so openly before strangers. I
     could have boxed his ears! Oh, I never feel safe or happy
     except when I am by your side. How very glad I shall be when
     you come home again. Then you will take me up to Abergeldie
     with you for the shooting, won’t you? Till then I shall not
     stir. How could I enjoy myself at a watering-place all
     alone? I have seen nothing of Mr Sterndale yet, and cannot
     imagine what he should have to say to me. We never had much
     in common; indeed, I regularly dislike him. He always looks
     at me so suspiciously as if he thought I was a wretched
     harpy, like some women we know of, and cared for nothing but
     your money and your title. Instead of which I love you so
     dearly that I could almost wish you were a ruined
     costermonger, Ilfracombe, instead of the grand gentleman you
     are, that I might prove my love by working for you and with
     you. Ah, if I only could do something to return all your
     goodness to me; but it is hopeless, and will never be. You
     are too high above me. All I can do is to love you.’

And with much more in this strain the letter ended. The excitement
that had been engendered in Nell by seeing friends from home had been
continued by writing her feelings to the man she loved; but now that it
was over, and she lay down on her bed, the natural reaction set in,
and she turned her beautiful face on her pillow and shed a few quiet

‘Oh, how I wish Ilfracombe were here,’ she sobbed. ‘He has been away
four months now, and my life is a desert without him. It is hardly
bearable. And if Hetty or William should hear--if by chance anyone who
knows it, like that officious Jack Portland, should come across them
and mention it, and they should tell mother, it would break her heart
and mine too. If he would only have the courage to end it, and do
what’s right. But it’s too much to expect. I must not think of such a
thing. I have always known it was impossible. And I am as certain as I
am that there is a heaven that he will never forsake me; he has said it
so often. I am as secure as if I were really his wife. Only this world
is so hard--so bitterly, bitterly hard!’

And so Nell cried herself to sleep.

But the next morning she was as bright and as gloriously beautiful as
ever, and when she descended to breakfast the butler and footman waited
on her as assiduously as if she had been a countess, and the coachman
sent up to her for orders concerning the carriage, and the cook
submitted the menu for that day’s dinner for her approval. As soon as
her breakfast was concluded she gave an interview to Lord Ilfracombe’s
stud groom, and went with him into the forage and stable accounts,
detecting several errors that he had passed over, and consulting him
as to whether his master might not, with some benefit to himself, try
another corn merchant. So much had she had identified herself with all
the earl’s interests that she more than once used the plural pronoun in
speaking of the high prices quoted to her.

‘This will never do, Farningham,’ she said once; ‘we cannot afford
to go on with Field at this rate. His charges are enough to ruin a
millionaire. With four horses here, and eleven down at Thistlemere, we
shall have nothing left to feed ourselves soon.’

‘Very well, ma’am,’ replied the man, ‘I’ll get the price list from two
or three other corn merchants, and submit them to you. I don’t fancy
you’ll find much difference, though, in their prices. You see, with the
long drought we have had this season, hay has risen terribly, and oats
ain’t much better; they’re so poor I’ve had to increase the feeds. Will
his lordship be home for the hunting, ma’am?’

‘Oh, yes, I hope so sincerely, Farningham. He says he shall miss the
grouse this year; but I quite expect him for the partridge-shooting.
And after that he is sure to go down to Thistlemere for the hunting
season. He couldn’t live without his horses for long, Farningham.’

‘No, ma’am, he’s a true nobleman for that is his lordship, and I
guessed as much; but I’m glad to hear you say so, for there’s no heart
in getting horses in first-rate order if no one’s to see ’em or use
’em. Good morning, ma’am, and I hope we shall see his lordship soon
again, for all our sakes,’ which hope Miss Llewellyn heartily echoed.

                              CHAPTER III.

The morning was beautiful, though very warm, and Miss Llewellyn thought
she could not spend it better than in taking a long drive. She felt as
if she could not stay in the house. Some intuitive dread or fear, she
knew not which, possessed her--as if she had an enemy in ambush, and
anticipated an assault. When she tried to analyse this feeling, she
laid it to the proximity of her relations and the possibility of their
hearing more of her domestic life than she wished them to know.

‘But it is all because Ilfracombe is not at home,’ she said to herself.
‘If he were here, he would laugh me out of such a piece of folly. As if
they possibly _could_ hear. Who could tell them, when they know no one
in London. I am a silly fool.’

When she entered the open carriage, and the footman attended her
orders, she told him to drive as far into the country as possible.

‘Tell Jenkins to go right away from town, up to Hampstead, or out to
Barnes. I want all the fresh air I can get.’

So she was carried swiftly towards Wimbledon, and had soon left the hot
bricks and mortar behind her, and was revelling in the sight of green
hedges and stretches of common.

‘How fresh and sweet it all seems,’ she thought; ‘but not half so fresh
and sweet as round Usk and by dear Panty-cuckoo Farm. How luscious the
honeysuckle used to smell, that trailed over the porch by the side
door. And how thickly it grew. I used to tear off the blossoms by
thousands to suck their petals. And the apple orchard, it was a mass
of white and pink flowers in spring, like a bridal bouquet. They must
have all fallen by this time, and left the little green apples in their
stead. What a thief I was in my early days. I can remember lanky Hugh
Owen catching me robbing Mr Potter’s plum tree, and the long-winded
lecture he gave me on the rights of meum and tuum. I wonder if the
sermons he preaches now are as prosy and as long. If so, I pity his
congregation. He was always so terribly in earnest. What would he say
if he knew all about me now?’

And here Miss Llewellyn’s thoughts took a rather melancholy turn, and
she sat in the carriage with folded arms, hardly noticing the rural
scenes through which she was passing, as her memory went back to her
girlhood’s days and her girlhood’s companions. She did not notice the
time either, until a church clock struck two, and reminded her that
she had had no luncheon. She gave the order for home then, but it was
nearly three before she reached Grosvenor Square, and the first words
the footman, who opened the door to her, said, were to the effect that
Mr Portland was waiting for her in the drawing-room. Nell started. She
had entirely forgotten the appointment of the day before.

‘In the drawing-room, did you say?’ she ejaculated. ‘I will go to him
at once.’

‘Luncheon is on the table, madam,’ added the servant; ‘shall I tell
them to take it downstairs till you are ready?’

‘It is not worth while,’ replied Miss Llewellyn, ‘I shall only be a few

She walked straight up to the drawing-room as she spoke, throwing the
hat she had worn on a side table as she entered.

‘I am sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr Portland,’ she said as he held
out his hand to her, ‘but I have been for a country drive, and quite
forgot the time.’

‘That is a very cruel speech, Miss Llewellyn,’ remonstrated her
visitor; ‘and when I have been counting the moments till we should

Jack Portland was always a ‘horsey’ looking man, and it struck Nell
that to-day he seemed more horsey than usual. By birth, he was a
gentleman; but, like many other gentlemen by birth, he had degraded
himself by a life of dissipation, till he had lost nearly all claim to
the title. His features, good enough in themselves, were swollen and
bloated by indulgence in drink; his manners were forward and repulsive;
he had lost all respect for women, and only regarded them as expensive
animals who cost, as a rule, much more than they were worth. To Nell he
had always been most offensive, not in words, but looks and manners,
and she was only decently civil to him for the earl’s sake. Now, as he
seemed disposed to approach her side, she got further and further away
from him, till she had reached a sofa at the other end of the room.
Mr Portland was ‘got-up’ in the flashiest style, but was evidently
nervous, though she could not imagine why. His suit was cut in the
latest racing fashion, and he wore an enormous ‘buttonhole.’ But his
florid face was more flushed than usual, and he kept fidgeting with his
watch chain in a curious manner. At last he found his tongue.

‘Were you very much surprised when I asked you for an interview, Miss
Llewellyn?’ he commenced.

‘I was, rather. Because I cannot think what you can possibly
have to say to me. We have but one subject of interest in
common--Ilfracombe--and he is quite well and happy. Else, I might
have frightened myself by imagining you had some bad news to tell me
concerning him.’

Jack Portland looked at her rather curiously as he replied,--

‘Oh, no, the old chap’s all right. How often do you hear from him now?
Every day. Is that the ticket?’

‘I hear constantly,’ replied Miss Llewellyn in a dignified tone. ‘I had
a letter yesterday. I was in hopes he might have fixed the date of his
return, but he says his friends will not be persuaded to let him go, so
that he shall be detained in Malta longer than he expected.’

‘Ah! his friends are the Abingers, of course,’ said Mr Portland,
sticking his glass in his eye, the better to observe her features.

‘Perhaps. He did not mention them by name,’ she replied, ‘but I
daresay you are right. However, he is sure to be home for the

‘Doubtless,’ replied Mr Portland, ‘unless his friends persuade him
to go somewhere else. But what are you going to do with yourself
meanwhile, Miss Llewellyn?’

‘I? Oh, I shall remain in town till his return, and then I suppose we
shall go to the Highlands as usual. Ilfracombe wants me to go away at
once to some watering-place to recruit, but I should be wretched there
by myself. I shall wait for him at home. He is sure to come straight to
London, because all his things are here.’

She was looking as handsome as paint that day. The long drive had
tinged her face with a soft pink, and her lovely hazel eyes were humid
with emotion, engendered by her subject. Her rich hair had become
somewhat disordered by the open air and the haste with which she had
removed her hat, and was ruffled and untidy. But that only added to
her charms. What pretty woman ever looked so well with neatly arranged
hair, as when it is rumpled and blown about? She was half sitting,
half reclining on the sofa, and her fine figure was shewn to the best
advantage. Portland’s eyes glistened as he gazed at her. What a
handsome hostess she would make--what a presider over the destinies of
his bachelor establishment! How proud he would be to introduce her to
his sporting and Bohemian friends--the only friends whom he affected,
and be able to tell them that this glorious creature was his own! He
became so excited by the idea that he dashed into the subject rather

‘Miss Llewellyn,’ he said, ‘you are aware, I think, of my position in
life. Ilfracombe, dear old chap, has doubtless told you that I make a
very neat little income, and that I am perfectly unencumbered.’

This seemingly vague address made her stare.

‘He has never entered into details with me, Mr Portland; but I have
heard him say you are very well off--the luckiest fellow he knows he
called you.’

‘I’m afraid I’m not quite that,’ said Mr Portland; ‘but still I am in
a position to give any reasonable woman everything she can possibly
require. My income is pretty regular, and I would engage to make a
handsome allowance to any lady who honoured me with her preference.
I tell you this because Ilfracombe has often told me that you have
an excellent head for business. By George!’ said Mr Portland, again
screwing his glass into his unhappy and long-suffering eye, ‘with such
beauty as yours, you have no right to know anything about business;
still, if you do--there you are, you see!’

‘But what has all this to do with me, Mr Portland,’ remarked Miss
Llewellyn with a puzzled air. ‘I am sure any lady you may choose to
marry will be a very lucky woman. Ilfracombe has often called you the
best fellow he knows. But why should you tell me this? Are you already
engaged to be married?’

‘By Jove! no, and not likely to be. Do I look like a marrying man, Miss
Llewellyn? But there!--I can’t beat about the bush any longer! You must
have seen my admiration--my worship for you! It is on _you_ my choice
has fallen! Say that I have not been too presumptuous; that you will
consent to share my fortune; that you will, in fact, look as kindly on
me as you have on my fortunate friend, Ilfracombe?’

At first she did not understand his meaning; she did not realise that
this farrago of nonsense had been addressed to herself. It was so
entirely unexpected, so utterly unthought of. But when she _did_ take
in the meaning of his words, when she awoke to the knowledge that Mr
Portland, the intimate friend of Lord Ilfracombe, had _dared_ to offer
her his protection, Nell sprung from her position on the sofa, and
retreated to the back of it. Her tawny eyes were blazing with fire,
her hands were clenched, her breast heaved violently, she could hardly
speak. Under the indignation of her burning glances, the man before her
seemed to shrivel like a dry leaf before the flame.

‘How dare you?’ she panted. ‘How _dare_ you insult me like that? What
do you mean? How can I be your friend, or the friend of any man but
Ilfracombe? I am _his_ wife; you know I am; and shall be till I die!’

‘His _wife_? pooh!’ said Jack Portland, ‘don’t talk rubbish to me like

‘Yes, his wife! How can I be _more_ his wife than I am? I love him--he
loves me! We are essentially _one_ in heart and word and deed. What
could a marriage ceremony have done more for us, than our mutual love
has done. And then _you_, who know all this, who have known us so many
years, you dare to come here and insult me, in my own house, and under
the pretence of friendship deal the deadliest insult you could possibly
have hurled at my head! Oh, how I wish Ilfracombe had been at home
to protect me from your insolence! He would not have let you finish
your cowardly sentence! You would not have dared utter it had he been
standing by! He would have taken you by the collar and spurned you from
the door. I have no words in which to tell you how I despise you; how
low and mean a thing you seem to me; how I wish I were a man that I
might put you out of this room and this house myself! But rest assured
that Lord Ilfracombe shall hear of your baseness, and will punish you
as you deserve!’

Jack Portland still kept his glass fixed in his eye and stared
insolently at her. He had elevated his brows once or twice as she
proceeded with her speech, and shrugged his shoulders, as if she were
not worth a second thought of his; and as she mentioned her lover’s
name he smiled scornfully and waved his hand.

‘Pray don’t take it in this fashion,’ he said, as she concluded. ‘I
am sure Ilfracombe would tell you it was not worth making such a fuss
about. As for insulting you, that is the last idea in my mind. I admire
you far too much. Most ladies would, I flatter myself, have regarded
my offer in a totally different light; indeed, no reasonable person
could say that it was an insult, especially from a man of my birth and

‘It becomes an insult,’ she answered hotly, ‘when you address your
proposals to the wife of another man, and that man your greatest

‘Perhaps it would, if she _were_ his wife, or ever likely to be so,’
returned Mr Portland, with a sneer.

‘But I _am_, I _am_,’ cried Nell passionately, stamping her feet,
‘and each fresh word you say is a fresh affront. People with your low
conceptions of life cannot understand the strength of the tie between
Ilfracombe and myself, because it has not been ratified by the law. You
are not honourable enough to see that that very fact renders it still
more binding on a man of honour. Ilfracombe would die sooner than part
from me, and I would die a thousand deaths sooner than part from him.
Our lives are bound up in each other. And even if it were not so, I
could never exchange him for you. Now, do you understand, or must I say
it all over again?’

Under the sting of what his proposal had suggested to her, she was
blazing away at him with twice her natural ferocity. At that moment she
hated him with such a deadly hatred for having presumed to remind her
of the real position she held, that she could gladly have killed him.

‘Pray say no more!’ exclaimed Mr Portland, as he prepared to leave her,
‘you’ve said more than enough, my pretty tigress, already; but the day
may come when you will regret that you treated my offer with so much
disdain. Young men’s fancies do not last for ever, my dear, and a good,
sound settlement is worth many vows. If Ilfracombe ever tires of you
(or rather let me say _when_ he tires of you), you will remember my
words. Meanwhile, luckily for me, there are as good fish in the sea as
ever came out of it. So good-bye, my handsome fury. Won’t you give me
one kiss before we part, just to show there’s no ill feeling? No? Well,
I must try to do without it then, for the present at least, and hope
for better luck next time. Remember me to old Ilfracombe when next you
write. Ta-ta.’

He lingered near her for a moment, as though expecting she would raise
her eyes or put out her hand; but Nell did neither, and, after a while,
he turned on his heel, and, insolently humming a tune, went on his way.

As soon as Miss Llewellyn heard the hall door close after him, she
rushed up to her own room, and, after locking the door, threw herself
on the sofa, face downwards, and sobbed and cried in the strength
of her wounded feelings and the terrible doubt which Mr Portland’s
words had seemed to imply. The servants came knocking at her door, and
worrying her to come down to luncheon, which was getting cold, in the
dining-room, but she would not stir nor speak to any of them.

It was the first time since her acquaintance with the Earl of
Ilfracombe that the untenability of her illegal position had been
brought so forcibly before her, and she felt all the more angry because
she had no right to feel angry at all. She believed implicitly in her
lover. She had accepted his assurances of fidelity as gospel truth, and
she was passionately indignant and sorely outraged because Mr Portland
had not considered the tie between her and his friend as inviolable as
she did. And yet she was _not_ Lord Ilfracombe’s wife. Beautiful Nell
Llewellyn knew this only too well as she lay on the couch, sobbing as
if her heart would break. Say what women will in these days of misrule
about the charms of liberty, and the horror of being enchained for
life, there is a comfortable sense of security in knowing oneself to be
honourably united to the man one loves; to have no need of concealment
or mis-stating facts; no necessity of avoiding one’s fellow men; no
fear of encountering insult from one’s inferiors in birth and morals,
because one does not wear a wedding-ring upon one’s finger--that
insignia of possession which is so insignificant and yet so powerful.
What would poor Nell Llewellyn not have given to have had one upon her
finger now?

How terrible is the first dread of the instability of the love on
which one has fixed all one’s earthly hopes! Had her lover been within
reach, Nell would have rushed to him with the story of her trouble, and
received a consolatory reassurance of his affection at once. But she
was alone. She could confide in no one, and Mr Portland’s proposal,
having made her see in what light men of the world regarded her tie
to Lord Ilfracombe, had made her heart question if they could be
correct, and he looked on it as they did. Her passionate nature, which
was not formed for patience or long-suffering or humility, cried out
against the suspense to which it was subjected, and raised such violent
emotions in her breast that by the time they were exhausted she was
quite ill. When at last she raised herself from her downcast position
on the sofa, and tried, with swollen eyes and throbbing brain, to
collect her thoughts, she found to her dismay that it was past five
o’clock, and she had promised to call for Hetty and her husband at six.
Her first thought was to remove the traces of her tears. She could not
bear that the servants should see that she had been crying. She would
never let them perceive that her position in the house cost her any
anxiety or remorse, but bore herself bravely in their presence as their
mistress, who had not a thought of ever being otherwise. As soon as
she had bathed her eyes and arranged her hair, Miss Llewellyn sat down
at a davenport that stood by her sofa and scribbled a note to Hetty,
enclosing her the seats for the Alhambra for that evening, and excusing
herself from accompanying them on the score of a violent attack of
neuralgia. Then she rung the bell for her maid, and desired her to send
the letter at once to Oxford Street by hand.

‘One of the grooms can go on horseback,’ she said, ‘or James can take a
hansom; but it must be delivered as soon as possible. And then you can
bring me a cup of coffee, Susan, for I have such a headache that I can
hardly open my eyes.’

‘Lor’! yes, ma’am, you do look bad!’ returned the servant. ‘Your eyes
are quite red-like, as if they was inflamed. You must have caught cold
last night. I thought you would, staying out so late, and without the

‘Well, never mind, go and do as I tell you,’ replied Miss Llewellyn,
who felt as if she could not endure her chatter one moment longer.

It was characteristic of this woman that what had occurred had planted
far less dread of the insecurity of the position she held in her mind
than a deep sense of the insult that had been offered to her love
and Lord Ilfracombe’s. She felt it on his account, more than on her
own--that anyone should have _dared_ so to question his honour, and
suspect his constancy. Hers was so ardent and generous a temperament,
that where she gave, she gave all, and without a question if she should
gain or lose by the transaction. She loved the man whom she regarded
as her husband with the very deepest feelings she possessed; it is not
too much to say that she adored him, for he was so much above her, in
rank and birth and station, that she looked up to him as a god--the
only god, indeed, that poor Nell had learned to acknowledge. He was her
world--her all! That they should ever be separated never entered into
her calculations. He had been struck with her unusual beauty, three
years before, and taken her from a very lowly position as nursemaid
to be his housekeeper--then, by degrees, the rest had followed. All
Lord Ilfracombe’s friends knew and admired her, and considered him a
deuced lucky fellow to have secured such a goddess to preside over his
bachelor establishment. Naturally, the elder ones said it was a pity,
and it was to be hoped that Lord Ilfracombe’s eyes would be opened
before long to the necessity of marriage and an heir to the fine old
estate and title. Especially did his father’s old friend and adviser,
Mr Sterndale, lament over the connection, and try by every means in
his power to persuade Ilfracombe to dissolve it. But the earl was of
a careless and frivolous nature--easily led in some things, and very
blind as yet to the necessity of marriage. Besides, he loved Nell--not
as she loved him by any manner of means, but in an indolent, indulgent
fashion, which granted her all her desires, and gave her as much money
as she knew what to do with. But had he been asked if he would marry
her, he would have answered decidedly, ‘No.’

                              CHAPTER IV.

Meantime the golden hours were slipping away in a very agreeable manner
for Lord Ilfracombe at Malta. He had been accustomed to spend several
weeks of each summer yachting with a few chosen companions, and as soon
as his little yacht, _Débutante_, had anchored in view of Valetta, a
score of husbands, fathers and brothers had scrambled aboard, carrying
a score of invitations for the newcomer from their womankind. A
young, good-looking and unmarried earl was not so common a visitor to
Malta as to be allowed to consider himself neglected, and before Lord
Ilfracombe and his friends had been located a week in Valetta, they
were the lions of the place, each family vying with the other to do
them honour. Naturally, the earl was pretty well used to that sort of
thing, especially as he had enjoyed his title for the last ten years.
There is such an ingrained snobbishness in the English nature, that it
is only necessary to have a handle to one’s name to get off scot-free,
whatever one may do. There was a divorce case, not so very long ago,
which was as flagrant as such a case could well be; but where the
titled wife came off triumphant, simply because the titled husband had
been as immoral as herself. The lady had money and the lady had good
looks--how far they went to salve over the little errors of which she
had been accused it is impossible to say, but the bulk of the public
forgave her, and the parsons prayed over her, and she is to be met
everywhere, and usually surrounded by a clique of adoring tuft hunters.
Sometimes I have wondered, had she been plain Mrs Brown, instead of
Lady Marcus Marengo, if the satellites would have continued to revolve
so faithfully. But in sweet, simple Christian England, a title, even a
borrowed one, covers a multitude of sins. The Earl of Ilfracombe had
naturally not been left to find out this truth for herself, but to
give him his due, it had never affected him in the least. He despised
servility, though, like most of his sex, he was open to flattery--the
flattery of deeds, not words. Amongst the many families who threw wide
their doors to him in Malta was that of Admiral Sir Richard Abinger,
who had been stationed there for many years. Sir Richard was a regular
family man. He had married sons and daughters; a bevy of girls on
their promotion; and a nursery of little ones. The Abinger girls, as
they were called, were an institution in Valetta. On account of their
father’s professional duties, and their mother’s constant occupation
with her younger children, they were allowed to go about a great deal
alone, and had become frank and fearless, and very well able to take
care of themselves in consequence. They personally conducted Lord
Ilfracombe and his friends to see everything worth seeing in Malta,
and a considerable intimacy was the result. There were three sisters
of the respective ages of eighteen, twenty and twenty-two, and it was
the middle one of these three, Leonora, or Nora, as she was generally
called, who attracted Lord Ilfracombe most. She was not exactly pretty,
but graceful and piquant. Her complexion was pale. Her eyes brown and
not very large; her nose sharp and inclined to be long; her mouth
of an ordinary size, but her teeth ravishingly white and regular. A
connoisseur, summing up her perfections, would have totalled them by
pronouncing her to have long eyelashes, well-marked eyebrows, good
teeth and red lips. But Nora Abinger’s chief charm did not lie in
physical attractions. To many it would not have counted as a charm at
all. They would have set it down as a decided disqualification. This
was her freedom of speech; her quickness of _repartee_; her sense of
the ridiculous; and her power of sustaining a conversation. Young men
of the present day, who find their greatest pleasure in associating
with women whom they would not dare introduce to their mothers and
sisters, are apt to become rather dumb when they find themselves in
respectable society. This had been much the case hitherto with the Earl
of Ilfracombe. He had assiduously neglected his duties to society (if
indeed we _do_ owe any duty to such a mass of corruption and deceit)
and had found his pleasure amongst his own sex, and in pursuing the
delights of sport, not excepting that of the racing field, on which he
had lost, at times, a considerable amount of money. To find that his
ignorance of society squibs and fashions, his slowness of speech and
ideas, his inability to make jokes, and sometimes even to see them,
was no drawback in Nora’s eyes, and that she chatted no less glibly
because he was silent, raised him in his own estimation. In fact, Nora
was a girl who _made_ conversation for her companions. She rubbed up
their wits by friction with her own; and people who had been half an
hour in her company felt all the brightness with which she had infused
them, and were better pleased with themselves in consequence. Lord
Ilfracombe experienced this to the fullest extent. For the first time
perhaps in his life he walked and talked with a young lady without
feeling himself ill at ease, or with nothing to say. Nora talked with
him about Malta and its inhabitants, many of whom she took off to the
life for his amusement. She drew him out on the subject of England
(which she had not visited since she was a child), and his particular
bit of England before all the rest; made him tell her of his favourite
pursuits, and found, strange to say, that they all agreed with her
own tastes; and lamented often and openly that there was no chance of
her father leaving that abominable, stupid island of which she was
so sick. Miss Nora Abinger had indeed determined from the very first
to secure the earl if possible for herself. Her two sisters, Mabel
and Susan, entertained the same aspiration, but they stood no chance
against keen-witted Nora, who was as knowing a young lady as the
present century can produce. She was tired to death, as she frankly
said, of their family life. The admiral would have been well off if he
had not had such a large family; but thirteen children are enough to
try the resources of any profession. Five of the brothers and sisters
were married, and should have been independent, but the many expenses
contingent on matrimony, and the numerous grandchildren with which they
annually endowed him, often brought them back in _forma pauperis_ on
their father’s hands. His nursery offspring, too, would soon be needing
education and a return to England, so that Sir Richard had to think
twice before he acceded to the requests of his marriageable maidens for
ball dresses and pocket-money. All these drawbacks in her domestic life
Nora confided, little by little, to her new friend, the earl, until the
young man yearned to carry the girl away to England with him and give
her all that she desired. He could not help thinking, as he listened
to her gay, rattling talk, how splendidly she would do the honours
of Thistlemere and Cotswood for him; what a graceful, elegant, witty
countess she would make; what an attraction for his bachelor friends;
what a hostess to receive the ladies of his family. The upshot was just
what might have been expected. Lounging one day on a bench under the
shade of the orange-trees which overhang the water’s edge, whilst their
companions had wandered along the quay, Lord Ilfracombe asked her if
she would go back to England with him. Nora was secretly delighted with
the offer, but not at all taken aback.

‘What do you think?’ she inquired, looking up at him archly with her
bright eyes. ‘You know I’ve liked you ever since you came here, and if
you can manage to pull along with me, I’m sure I can with you.’

‘Pull along with you, my darling!’ cried the young man. ‘Why, I adore
you beyond anything. I don’t know how I should get on now without your
bright talk and fascinating ways to cheer my life.’

‘Well, you’ll have to talk to papa about it, you know,’ resumed Nora.
‘I don’t suppose he’ll make any objection (he’ll be a great fool if he
does), still there’s just the chance of it, so I can’t say anything for
certain till you’ve seen him. He’s awfully particular, very religious,
you know, and always says he’d rather marry us to parsons without a
halfpenny, than dukes who were not all they ought to be. But that may
be all talkee-talkee! Though I hope you’re a good boy, all the same,
for my own sake!’

‘Oh, I’m an awfully good boy,’ replied Lord Ilfracombe. ‘This is the
very first offer I ever made a girl in my life, and if you won’t have
me, Nora, it will be the last. Say you like me a little, darling,
whatever papa may say.’

‘I _do_ like you ever so much, and I don’t believe there’ll be any
hitch in the matter.’

‘But if there were--if your father has any objection to me as a
son-in-law--will that make you break with me, Nora?’

‘Of course not. There’s my hand on it! But I don’t see how we are
to get married in this poky little place without his consent. But
there--don’t let us think of such a thing. He’ll give it fast enough.
But we had better go home now and get the matter over at once.’

‘You’ll give me one kiss before we go, Nora,’ pleaded Ilfracombe; ‘no
one can see us here. Just one, to prove you love me!’

‘Out in the open!’ cried the girl, with comical dismay. ‘Oh, Lord
Ilfracombe, what are you thinking of? You don’t know what a horrid
place this is for scandal! Why, if a boatman or beggar came by, it
would be all over the town before the evening. Oh, no; you must wait
till we are properly engaged before you ask for such a thing.’

‘I’ll take my revenge on you, then,’ said the young man gaily; but he
was disappointed, all the same, that Nora had not given in to him.

Sir Richard Abinger was unaffectedly surprised when the earl asked
for an interview, and made his wishes known. His daughters had walked
about and talked with so many men before, without receiving a proposal.
And that Lord Ilfracombe should have fixed on Nora seemed to him the
greatest surprise of all.

‘Nora?’ he reiterated, ‘_Nora?_ Are you sure that you mean Nora? I
should have thought that Mabel or Susie would have been more likely
to take your fancy. People tell me that Susie is the beauty of the
family--that she is so very much admired. We have always considered
Nora to be the plainest of them all.’

‘I do not consider her so, Sir Richard, I can assure you,’ replied the
earl, ‘although, at the same time, I have chosen her much more for her
mind than her looks. She is the most charmingly vivacious girl I have
ever come across. She is as clever as they’re made.’

‘Oh, yes, yes, very clever,’ said the old man; ‘but now we come to the
most important matter--’

‘The settlements? Oh, yes! I hope I shall be able to satisfy you
thoroughly with respect to them.’

‘No, Lord Ilfracombe, not the settlements, though, of course, they are
necessary; but, in my eyes, quite a minor consideration. My daughter,
Nora, is--well, to be frank with you, she is not my favourite daughter.
Perhaps it is our own fault (for the poor child has been left a great
deal to herself), but she is more heedless, less reliable--how shall I
put it? Let me say, more headstrong and inclined to have her own way
than her sisters. It will require a strong man, and a sensible man, to
guide her through life; ay, more than these, a _good_ man. The position
you offer her is a very brilliant one, and I should be proud to see her
fill it; but, before I give my consent to her marrying you, I must be
assured that the example you set her will be such as to raise instead
of debase her.’

‘I do not understand what you mean,’ replied the young man, with a
puzzled air. ‘How can you possibly suspect me of setting my wife a bad

‘Not practically, perhaps, but theoretically, Lord Ilfracombe. Forgive
me, if I touch upon a delicate subject; but, in the interests of my
daughter, I must lay aside all false scruples. I have heard something
of your domestic life in England, from the men who have come over here,
and I must ascertain for certain that everything of that kind will be
put a stop to before you marry Nora.’

Lord Ilfracombe reddened with shame.

‘Of course, of course,’ he said, after a pause. ‘How can you doubt it?’

‘I am aware,’ continued the admiral, ‘that men of the present day think
little of such matters--that they believe all that goes on before
marriage is of no consequence to anyone but themselves. But it is not
so. Some years back, perhaps, our women were kept in such ignorance
of the ways of the world, that they only believed what their husbands
chose to tell them. Now it is very different. Their eyes seem to have
been opened, and they see for themselves, and act for themselves. I
am often astonished at the insight given to me by my own daughters to
female nature. Where they have learned it in this quiet, little place,
I cannot imagine. It seems to me as if they were born wide-awake. And
Nora is especially so. She is ready to be anything you choose to make
her. And if she found out that you had deceived her, I would not answer
for the consequences.’

‘You may rely on my word, sir, that, in the future, I will never
deceive her. With regard to the past, I should like to make a clean
breast to you, in order that hereafter you may not be able to say I
have kept anything back. Others may also have represented my life as
worse than it has been, and, as my future father-in-law, I should
wish you to think the best of me. Some three years ago, I fell in
with a very beautiful young woman, in a humble station of life, whom
I took into my household as housekeeper. After a while--there was
nothing coarse or vulgar about her, and her beauty was something
extraordinary--I succumbed to the temptation of seeing her constantly
before my eyes, and raised her to the position of my mistress.’

‘I beg your pardon, Lord Ilfracombe,’ said the admiral, looking up.

‘Well, not _raised_ exactly, perhaps, but you know what I mean. We
were mutually attracted, but, of course, it was understood from the
beginning that the connection would only last until I thought fit
to marry. Now, of course, I shall pension her off, and have already
written to my solicitor on the subject. That is really all that any
man can say against me, Sir Richard, and it is far less than the
generality of young fellows of the present day have to confess to.
My life has always been a clean one. I have no debts, my property is
unencumbered, and I have no proclivities for low tastes or companions.
If you will trust your daughter to my care, I promise that her private
rights shall be protected as rigorously as her public ones.’

‘It is a grand position,’ said the father, thoughtfully, ‘and I do not
know that I should be justified in refusing it for Nora. Only it seems
very terrible to me about this other young woman. How is your marriage
likely to affect her? I could have no faith in the stability of my
daughter’s happiness if it were built up on the misery of another.’

Lord Ilfracombe looked up astonished.

‘Oh, Sir Richard, you need have no scruples on that account, I assure
you. These people do not feel as we do. I should have ended the
business any way, for I was getting rather sick of it. To prove what
I say is correct, I have already written to my man of business, Mr
Sterndale, to draw up a deed settling five thousand pounds upon her,
which will secure an ample annuity for a woman in her sphere of life.
She was only a country girl somewhere out of Scotland, I believe. She
will be all right, and, honestly, I never wish to hear her name again.’

‘Very well, Lord Ilfracombe, of course, under any circumstances, the
termination of such a connection is a good thing, and I am glad to
hear that the remembrance of it is distasteful to you. You are a man
of honour, and, therefore, I accept your assurance that it is all over
henceforth, and that you will make my daughter a kind and faithful
husband. But be careful of her, and don’t let her have too much of her
own way. I’ve seen the bad effects of such a course of behaviour before

So it was a settled thing that Miss Nora Abinger was to become the
Countess of Ilfracombe, and she rose in the estimation of the residents
of Malta accordingly. She had been a fast, bold, flirting girl as Nora
Abinger, but when she was announced as the future Lady Ilfracombe,
it was suddenly discovered that she was really excessively clever and
witty, and though no one could call her exactly pretty, there was
something, a _je ne sais quoi_, about her manner of holding herself
and the way she turned her head that was certainly very fascinating.
Her promised husband, who had discovered her fascinations before, and
was admitted to the full enjoyments of all her wilful moods and witty
sayings, fell more deeply in love with her every day, and had hardly
patience to wait till the wedding preparations were completed for the
fulfilment of his happiness. If a thought of Nell Llewellyn crossed
his mind at this period it was only to hope that her interview with
Sterndale had passed off quietly, and that she would have the sense to
clear out without any fuss. So intensely selfish does a new passion
make a man! The time had been when Nell, who was twice as strong,
mentally and physically, as Nora Abinger, was Lord Ilfracombe’s ideal
of a woman. Her finely moulded form had seemed to him the perfection
of symmetry; her majestic movements, the bearing of a queen; the calm,
classic expression of her features, just what that of a well-bred
gentlewoman’s should be. Now he was gazing rapturously, day after
day, upon Nora’s mobile face, on her slim and lissom figure, which,
stripped of its clothing, resembled nothing better than a willow
wand, and listening eagerly to her flow of nonsensical chatter,
during which she successively ‘cheeked’ her parents and himself,
ridiculed her acquaintances, scolded her younger brethren, and took
her own way in everything. In truth, she differed as greatly from the
loving, submissive woman, who lived but to please him, in England, as
she possibly could do, and herein lay her attraction for him. Nell
Llewellyn was more beautiful, more obedient and more loving, but Nora
was more _new_. He had become just a little bit tired of Nell, and he
had never met a girl who treated him as Nora did, before. She spoke to
him exactly as she chose; she didn’t seem to care a pin about his title
or his money. She contradicted him freely; refused his wishes whenever
they clashed in any degree with her own, and let him fully understand
that she intended to do exactly as she chose for the remainder of
her life. She was a new experience to Lord Ilfracombe, who had been
accustomed to be deferred to in everything. Perhaps she knew this;
perhaps she was ‘cute’ enough to guess the likeliest method by which
to snare the fish she had set her heart on catching; anyway the bait
took and the gudgeon was netted. The Earl of Ilfracombe and Miss Nora
Abinger were formally engaged and the wedding-day was fixed. But still
the young lady did not relax her discipline, and her lover’s privileges
remained few and far between.

‘Paws off Pompey!’ she would cry if he attempted to take any of the
familiarities permissible to engaged people. ‘Do you want Vicenzo
or Giorgione to make us the jest of Valetta? Don’t you know that
“spooning” is out of fashion? We leave all that sort of thing to the
_oi polloi_ now-a-days.’

‘Oh, do we?’ the young man would retort, playfully; ‘then I’ll belong
to the _oi polloi_, Nora, if you please! At all events, I’m going to
have a kiss!’

‘At all events, you’re going to have no such thing; at least, not now.
There’ll be plenty of time for all that kind of nonsense after we’re
married, and we’re not there yet, you know. Don’t forget “there’s many
a slip ’twixt cup and lip.”’

Then, seeing him frown, she would add coaxingly, twisting her mouth up
into the most seductive curves as she spoke,--

‘There, don’t be vexed, you’ll have too much of kissing some day, you
know. Come out in the boat with me. You’re the most troublesome boy I
ever knew. There’s no keeping you in order in the house.’

So he would follow her obediently, with his longing still ungratified,
and always looking forward to a luckier to-morrow. Whoever had been
her instructor, Miss Nora Abinger had certainly learnt the art of
keeping a man at her feet. Perhaps the same thought struck him also,
for one day, when they were alone together, he asked her if he were
the only man she had ever loved. Nora looked at him with the keenest
appreciation lurking in the corners of her mirthful eyes.

‘Are you the only man I’ve ever loved, Ilfracombe?’ she repeated after
him. ‘Well, I don’t think so.’

‘You don’t think so? Good heavens, do you mean to tell me you’ve had
lovers beside myself!’ he exclaimed, getting into a sudden fury.

‘My dear boy, do you know how old I am? Twenty, last birthday! What are
you dreaming of? Do you suppose all the men in Malta are deaf, dumb,
and blind? Of course I’ve had other lovers--scores of them!’

‘But you didn’t love them, Nora; not as you love me,’ Lord Ilfracombe
asked anxiously.

‘Well, before I can answer that question, we must decide how much I
_do_ love you. Anyway, I didn’t marry any of them, though I might have
had a dozen husbands by this time if I had accepted them all. As it is,
you see, I chucked them over.’

‘But were you engaged to any of them, Nora?’ he persisted.

She might easily have said ‘no,’ but it was not in this girl’s nature
to deceive. She was frankly naughty, defiantly so, some people might
have said, and rather glorified in her faults than otherwise. Besides,
she dearly loved to tease her lover, and tyrannise over him.

‘Oh, yes I was,’ she replied, ‘that is, I had a kind of a sort of an
engagement with several of them. But it amounted to nothing. There was
only one of the whole lot I shed a single tear for.’

‘And pray, who may he have been?’ demanded Lord Ilfracombe, with a
sudden access of dignity.

‘Find it out for yourself,’ she said pertly. ‘Oh, he _was_ a dear,
quite six foot high, with the goldenest golden hair you ever saw; not a
bit like yours. I call yours flaxen. It’s too pale, but his had a rich
tinge in it, and he had such lovely eyes, just like a summer night, I
nearly cried myself blind when he left Malta.’

‘It seems to me,’ said the earl, with the same offended air he had
assumed before, ‘that I am _de trop_ here, since the recollection of
this fascinating admirer is still so fresh. Perhaps I had better resign
in favour of him while there is still time?’

‘Just as you like!’ returned Nora indifferently. ‘I have no wish to
bias your movements in any way. But if you did not want an answer, why
did you put the question to me?’

‘But, Nora, my darling, you did not mean what you said? You did not
waste any of your precious tears on this brute, surely? You said it
only to tease me?’

‘Indeed I did not! Do you imagine you are the only nice man I have ever
seen--that I have been shut up on this island like poor Miranda and
never met a man before? What a simpleton you must be! Of course I was
engaged to him, and should have been married to him by this time, only
the poor dear had no certain income, and papa would not hear of it!
And I cried for weeks afterwards whenever I heard his name mentioned.
Would you have had me an insensible block, and not care whether we had
to give each other up or no?’

‘No, no, of course not, but it is terrible to me, Nora, to think you
could have cared for another man.’

‘Rubbish!’ cried the young lady. ‘How many women have you cared for
yourself? Come now, let us have the list?’

The earl blushed uneasily.

‘I have told you already,’ he replied, ‘that you are the first woman I
have ever asked to be the Countess of Ilfracombe!’

‘And I didn’t ask you how many women you had proposed to, but how many
you had thought you loved. The list can’t be so long that you have
forgotten them all? Let’s begin at the end. That will make it easier.
Who was the last woman before me?’

‘That is a very silly question, Nora, and I consider that I have
already answered it. Besides, I am not a young lady, and that makes
all the difference.’

‘In your idea, Ilfracombe, perhaps, but not mine. We women see no
difference in the two things at all. And if you cannot produce a
clean bill of health in the matter of having loved before, you have
no right to expect it of me. Besides, my dear boy,’ she continued in
a more soothing voice, ‘do you mean to tell me, in this nineteenth
century, that you have reached your present age--what is your present
age, Ilfracombe, nine-and-twenty, is it not?--without having made love
to heaps of women? Not that I care one jot! I am not such a zany! I
think it’s all for the best since “pot will not be able to call kettle
black,” eh?’

And she glanced up into his face from under her long eyelashes in so
fascinating a manner, that the earl caught her in his arms before she
had time to remonstrate, and forgot all about the former lover. So the
time wore away, each day more delightful than the last, spent under
the orange and myrtle trees, or in sailing round the bay, until the
longed-for wedding morning broke, and they were married in the English
church at Malta. Their plans were to go to an hotel higher up in the
island, for a fortnight’s honeymoon, after which they were to start in
the _Débutante_ for the Grecian Isles, before returning to England. A
few days after his marriage, Lord Ilfracombe received a letter by the
English mail that seemed greatly to disturb him. He was most anxious to
conceal it, and his own feelings regarding it, from the observation of
his wife, and this he had no difficulty in doing, as she did not appear
even to have noticed that he was unlike himself. The letter was from a
woman, long and diffusive, and he read it many times. Then he entered
the sitting-room and addressed Lady Ilfracombe.

‘Have you torn up the paper that contained the description of our
marriage, darling?’ he inquired.

‘What, that local thing? No, I never looked at it a second time. It is
somewhere about. What can you possibly want with it, Ilfracombe?’

‘Only to send to one of my English friends, Nora. It is so funnily
worded, it will amuse them.’

And then he found it, and put it in a wrapper and directed it to Miss
Llewellyn, 999 Grosvenor Square, London.

                               CHAPTER V.

Miss Llewellyn had almost forgotten that she was to expect a visit
from Lord Ilfracombe’s solicitor, Mr Sterndale, when one day, as she
was sitting alone, his card was brought in to her. Hetty and William
had returned to Usk by this time. Their modest resources could not
stand out against more than a week in London, though their sister had
helped them as much as they would allow her. So they were gone, taking
the fresh smell of the country with them, and leaving Miss Llewellyn
more melancholy and depressed than they had found her. For she had not
heard again from Lord Ilfracombe since the few lines she had received
on the day of their arrival, and she was beginning to dread all sorts
of unlikely things, just because the unusual silence frightened her,
like a child left alone in the dark. Hetty and Will had been most
urgent that she should accompany them back to Usk, and for a moment
Nell thought the temptation too great to be resisted. What would she
not give for a sight of her dear mother’s face, she thought--for her
father’s grave smile; for a night or two spent in the old farmhouse
where she had been so careless and so happy; to lie down to sleep with
the scent of the climbing roses and honeysuckle in her nostrils, and
the lowing of the cattle and twittering of the wild birds in her ears.
And Ilfracombe had urged her to take change of air, too. He would be
pleased to hear she had left London for awhile! But here came the idea
that he might return home any day, perhaps unexpectedly and sooner than
he imagined, and then if she were absent what would he think?--what
would she suffer? She would not cease to reproach herself. Oh, no,
it was useless for Hetty to plead with her. She would come back some
day, when she could have a holiday without inconvenience, but just
now with the master of the house absent, her mother would understand
it was impossible; it would not be right for her, in her position as
housekeeper, to leave the servants to look after themselves. So Hetty,
having been brought up very strictly with regard to duty, was fain to
acquiesce in her sister’s decision, and comfort herself with the hope
that she would fulfil her promise some day. But when they had left
London, Nell felt as if she had escaped a great danger, and was only
just able to breathe freely again. And had she accompanied them to
Usk, and gone to stay at Panty-cuckoo Farm, she would have felt almost
as bad. To live under the eyes of her parents day after day; to have
to submit to their eager questioning; to evade their sharpness--for
country people are sometimes very sharp in matters that affect their
domestic happiness and very eager for revenge when their family honour
is compromised; all this Nell felt she dared not, under present
circumstances, undergo. So she was sorry and glad to part with her
sister at the same time; but her advent had so put other matters out
of her head, that she was quite startled at receiving Mr Sterndale’s
card. It revived all the old curiosity, which the first notice of his
coming had evoked in her mind. What on earth could he possibly have
to say to her? However, that question would soon be put to rest, and
she was bound, for Ilfracombe’s sake, to receive him. She happened
to be in her boudoir at the time, and told the servant to desire her
visitor to walk up there. Nell knew that the lawyer did not like her,
and the feeling was reciprocal. Mr Sterndale was a little, old man of
sixty, with silver hair. A very cute lawyer, and a firm friend, but
uncompromising to a degree--a man from whom a fallen woman might expect
no mercy. Miss Llewellyn had said in her letter to her lover, that
she knew Mr Sterndale regarded her as a harpy who cared for nothing
but his money, and this estimate of his opinion was strictly true.
With him, women were divided into only two classes--moral and immoral.
The class to which poor Nell belonged was generally mercenary and
grasping, and deserted a poor man to join a richer one, and he had no
idea that she was any different. She was beautiful, he saw, so much
the more dangerous; and all his fear of late years had been lest the
earl should have taken it in his head to marry her, as indeed, except
for Mr Sterndale’s constant warnings and entreaties, he would have
done. Now he rejoiced to think that his client was about to be wedded
to a woman in his own sphere of life, for the news of the marriage
had not yet reached England, and he had come to Grosvenor Square to
fulfil Lord Ilfracombe’s request that he would break the intelligence
to Miss Llewellyn, as calmly and deliberately as if he were the bearer
of the best of news. She did not rise as he entered, but, bowing rather
curtly, begged he would be seated and disclose his business with her.
She had been accustomed for so long to be treated by this man as the
mistress of the establishment, that she had come to regard him much
as Lord Ilfracombe did, in the light of a servant. Mr Sterndale noted
the easy familiarity with which she motioned him to take a chair, and
chuckled inwardly, to think how soon their relative positions would be

‘Good morning,’ began Miss Llewellyn. ‘Ilfracombe wrote me word I might
expect to see you, Mr Sterndale, but I have no idea for what purpose.’

‘Perhaps not, madam,’ was the reply, ‘but it will soon be explained.
Have you heard from his lordship lately?’

Miss Llewellyn raised her head proudly.

‘I hear constantly, as you know. Ilfracombe is well, I am thankful
to say, and apparently enjoying himself. He has made some pleasant
acquaintances in Valetta, and they are urging him to stay on with them
a little longer. Else he would have returned before now. He is longing
to get home again, I know.’

‘Ah, perhaps, very likely,’ replied Mr Sterndale, who was fumbling with
some papers he held in his hand. ‘Indeed, I have no doubt his lordship
will be back before long--when he has completed another little trip he
has in contemplation to the Grecian Isles.’

Nell’s face assumed a look of perplexity.

‘Another yachting trip, and not homewards? Oh, I think you must be
mistaken, Mr Sterndale, or are you saying it to tease me? He has been
gone four months already, ever since the fifth of April, and I am
expecting to hear he has started for home by every mail. What has put
such an idea into your head?’

‘No one less than his lordship himself, Miss Llewellyn. In a letter
from him, dated the beginning of the month, but which, for reasons
which I will explain hereafter, I have not thought fit to bring to you
till now, he distinctly says that when certain arrangements which he
is making in Malta are completed, he intends to sail for the Grecian
Isles, and does not expect to be home at Thistlemere till late in the

Nell looked fearfully anxious and distressed.

‘I cannot believe it,’ she said incredulously. ‘Why should Ilfracombe
make such arrangements without consulting me first? He always has done
so. I might have wished to join him in Malta. We have been separated
for such a long time now--longer than ever before, and I have told him
how sick and weary I am of it--how I long to see him again.’

‘The money has not run short, has it?’ inquired the solicitor; ‘for, if
so, you should have applied to me.’

She gave a shrug of impatience.

‘My money has never run short, thank you,’ she replied. ‘Ilfracombe
thinks too much of my comfort for that.’

‘It is his prolonged stay abroad, then, that is puzzling you,’
continued Mr Sterndale; ‘but I am in a position to explain that. I have
a painful duty before me, Miss Llewellyn, but I don’t know that I shall
make it any better by beating about the bush.’

‘A painful task,’ she echoed, with staring eyes. ‘For God’s sake, don’t
tell me that my--that Ilfracombe is ill?’

‘No, no, nothing of the sort. But has it never occurred to you, Miss
Llewellyn, that circumstances may alter in this life, that a tie like
that between you and Lord Ilfracombe, for example, does not, as a rule,
last for ever.’

‘No, never,’ she answered firmly, ‘because it is no ordinary tie, and
Lord Ilfracombe is a gentleman. I am as sure of him as I am of myself.
He would never break his word to me.’

‘There is no question of breaking his word. You knew the conditions
under which you took up your residence in this house, and that you have
no legal right here.’

‘Have you come here to insult me?’ cried Nell shrilly. ‘How dare you
allude to any agreement between Lord Ilfracombe and myself? I _am_
here, that is quite enough for you to know, and the earl has said that
I am to remain. I am sure he never desired you to come here and taunt
me with my position?’

‘_Taunt_, my dear lady. That is scarcely the word to use. I was
only reminding you, as gently as I knew how, that your position is
untenable, and that young men are apt to change their minds.’

‘Lord Ilfracombe will not change his,’ replied Miss Llewellyn proudly.
‘I am aware you have done your best to try and make him do so, Mr
Sterndale, but you have not succeeded.’

‘Perhaps not. I have certainly nothing to do with his lordship’s
prolonged absence from England. But, since you profess to be much
attached to him, Miss Llewellyn, has it never occurred to you what a
very disadvantageous thing for the earl this connection between you is?’

‘That is for the earl to decide,’ said Miss Llewellyn.

‘You are right, and he has decided. Lord Ilfracombe is a young man who
owes a duty to Society and the exalted station he occupies. His friends
and family have been shocked and scandalised for the last three years
to witness the outrage he has committed against the world and them, and
that he has never considered the importance of founding a family to
succeed him, and of leaving an heir to inherit his ancient title.’

Miss Llewellyn’s lip trembled as she replied,--

‘All very true, I daresay, but Lord Ilfracombe prefers the present
state of affairs to the opinion of the world.’

‘Happily, I am in a position to inform you, Miss Llewellyn, that he
has at last come to his senses, and determined to do his duty in that
respect. In this letter,’ said Mr Sterndale, dangling one in his hand
as he spoke, ‘Lord Ilfracombe desires me to break the news to you of
his approaching marriage with Miss Leonora Abinger, the daughter of Sir
Richard Abinger, which is fixed to come off at an early date.’

‘It is a lie!’ cried Miss Llewellyn, as she rose to her feet and drew
herself up to her full height, ‘a mean, wicked lie, which you have
forged for some purpose of your own. Oh, you need not look at me like
that, Mr Sterndale. I have known for long how you hate me, and how
glad you would be to get rid of me. I have too much influence over
Ilfracombe to suit your book. If you could persuade me to leave this
house, and then convince him that I had gone off with some other man
it would fit in nicely with your own little plans, wouldn’t it? But
you don’t hoodwink me. I know your master too well. He never wished me
to leave his protection, nor told you to forge that lie in his name.
He has no intention of marrying--if he had he would have told me so
himself--and not left it to an attorney to deal the worst blow that
life could give me. Leave this house, sir! Till the man whom I regard
as my husband returns to it there is no master here but I. Go! and take
your lies with you. I will believe your statement on no authority but
that of Ilfracombe himself.’

‘And that is just the authority with which I am armed, Miss Llewellyn,
if you will but listen to me quietly. What is the use of making all
this fuss over the inevitable? You are acquainted with the earl’s
handwriting. Will you kindly glance at this, and tell me if you
recognise it as his?’

‘Yes, it is his.’

‘Let me read it to you, and pray remember that the servants are near at
hand, and ready to make copy out of all they hear. Are you listening to


‘This letter is dated 2d of July.

     ‘“DEAR STERNDALE,--You will be surprised, and I suppose
     delighted, to hear that I am engaged to be married to
     Miss Leonora Abinger, the second daughter of Admiral Sir
     Richard Abinger, a young lady of twenty. The wedding will
     take place within six weeks or so. Of course, the only
     difficulty with me is Miss Llewellyn. The news will be
     unexpected to her, and I am not quite sure how she will
     take it. We have been together now for three years, and
     that is a long time. However, she is a very sensible
     woman, and must have known from the beginning that it was
     impossible such a state of things could go on for ever.
     Will you go, like a good soul, and break it to her? Of
     course, she must be well provided for. What would be a
     suitable sum? Five thousand pounds? Draw up a settlement
     for what you consider best, but I want to be generous to
     her, for she has been very good to me. I should consider
     myself a scoundrel if I did not provide for her for life;
     but she will doubtless marry before long, and a few
     thousands will form a nice little _dot_ for her. After my
     marriage I am going to take my wife straight to the Grecian
     Isles in the _Débutante_, so that we shall not be home
     till late in the autumn. You will see, like a good friend,
     that the coast is quite clear before then. We mean to go
     to Thistlemere for Christmas, and while the town house is
     being done up.”

‘There Miss Llewellyn,’ said Mr Sterndale, as he came to a full stop,
‘that is all of the letter that concerns you. The rest consists of
directions about draining and decoration, and matters that ladies do
not trouble their heads about. You perfectly understand now, I am sure,
and will absolve me from attempting to deceive you in the business.’

He glanced at her as he spoke, and observed she was sitting on the
couch with her head drooping on her breast.

‘May I see the letter?’ was all she said.

He placed it in her hands, and she perused the portion he had read
aloud, mechanically. Then she held it out to him again, and he pocketed
it. But he wished she would say something. He did not like her total
silence. It was so unlike Miss Llewellyn. With a view to disperse it,
he continued,--

‘I told you I had a reason for not having called on you before. It
was because I thought it best to have the settlement, which his
lordship proposes to make upon you, drawn up, that you may be perfectly
convinced of his good intentions towards you. The deed, of course,
will not be complete without his signature, but, with a man of Lord
Ilfracombe’s honour, you may rest assured of his signing it on the
first possible occasion, and meanwhile I am prepared, on my own
account, to advance you any sum of money of which you may stand in

Still she did not answer his remarks, but sat silent and immovable,
with her features concealed by the drooping of her head.

‘His lordship is sure to be home before the winter, but if you wish to
have this sum invested for you at once, I know I shall only be meeting
his wishes in helping you to do so. Perhaps you would like me to put
the money into the earl’s own coal mines, Miss Llewellyn. They are an
excellent investment, and the shares are paying seven per cent., a rate
of interest which you are not likely to get elsewhere. And it would
have this further advantage, that in case of any unforeseen accident,
or depreciation in the market, I feel sure the earl would never hear of
your losing your money, whatever the other shareholders might do. The
John Penn Mine is yielding wonderfully, so is the Llewellyn, which, if
I mistake not, the earl called after yourself.’

‘Are you a man?’ demanded Nell, slowly raising her head, ‘or are you a
devil? Cease chattering to me about your coal mines and shareholders!
When I want to invest money, I shall not come to you to help or advise
me. Do you suppose that I don’t know that if this letter speaks
truth--that if my--if the earl contemplates doing what he says, it
is not owing in a great measure to your advice and exhortations? You
were for ever dinning the necessity of marriage into his ears. We have
laughed over it together.’

‘Have you indeed? Well, I don’t deny it. I have done my duty by Lord
Ilfracombe, and I’m very glad to find that my advice has had a good
effect. You laughed too soon you see, Miss Llewellyn. But whatever
influence has been brought to bear upon his lordship, the fact remains,
that it has been successful, and he is about to be married--may even
be married at the present moment. Nothing now remains to be done but
for you to look at this settlement and decide how soon it will be
convenient for you to leave Grosvenor Square.’

He laid the paper on her lap as he spoke, but Miss Llewellyn sprang to
her feet, and, seizing the document in her strong grasp, tore it across
and flung the fragments in the solicitor’s face.

‘Go back to your master!’ she exclaimed, ‘to the man who was good and
true and honourable until your crafty advice and insinuations made him
forget his nobler nature, and tell him to take his money and spend it
on the woman he marries, for I will have none of it! Does he think he
can _pay_ me for my love, my faith, my honour? In God’s sight, I am the
wife of Lord Ilfracombe, and I will not accept his alms, as if I were
a beggar. For three years I have lived by his side, sharing all that
was his--his pleasures, his troubles, and his pains. He has had all my
love, my devotion, my duty! I have nursed him in sickness, and looked
after his interests at all times, and I will not be remunerated for my
services as if I were a hireling. Tell him I am his wife, and I throw
his money back in his face. He can never pay me for what I have been to
him. He will never find another woman to fill my place.’

‘But, my dear madam, this is folly! Let me entreat you to be
reasonable,’ said Mr Sterndale, as he picked up the torn settlement.
‘You may have _thought_ all this, but you know it is not tenable. You
are _not_ Lord Ilfracombe’s wife, and you never will be! You have been
the most excellent of friends and companions, I admit that freely; but
the time has come for parting, and the wisest and most sensible thing
for you to do is to acquiesce in his lordship’s decision, and effect
this little alteration in his domestic arrangements as quietly as
possible. It _must_ be, you know! Why not let it pass without scandal?’

‘We have not been only friends and companions,’ she repeated
scornfully, ‘we have been the dearest and closest of lovers and
_confidantes_. Oh, why should I speak to you of it? What should _you_
know of such things? It is not in you to love anyone as I have loved
Ilfracombe and he has loved me. But I do not believe your story, not
even from the letter you showed me. I don’t believe he wrote it. You
lawyers are cunning enough for anything. You may have forged his
writing. So I reject your news and your settlement and yourself. Leave
me at once and don’t come near me again. I will accept this assurance
from no one but Ilfracombe, and I shall not quit his house till he
tells me to do so. He left me in charge here, and I do not relinquish
it till my master bids me go.’

‘He’ll bid you fast enough,’ replied the solicitor, as he gathered up
his papers and prepared to leave her; ‘and it will be your own fault,
Miss Llewellyn, if your exit is made more unpleasant to you than it
need have been. The decorators will be in the house, probably, before
you get any answer to your appeal to his lordship.’

‘Then I shall superintend the decorators,’ she said haughtily. ‘As long
as anyone sleeps here, I shall sleep here, unless Ilfracombe himself
tells me to go.’

‘Very ill-advised--very foolish,’ remarked Mr Sterndale; ‘but don’t
blame me if you suffer for your obstinacy.’

‘All I want is to get rid of you,’ she cried. ‘I have always disliked
you, and now I hate you like poison.’

‘Much obliged, I’m sure,’ he said, as he left the room. But he revenged
himself for the affronts she had put upon him as he went downstairs.

‘You must tell the women to look after poor Miss Llewellyn,’ he
whispered to the footman, who let him out, ‘for I have been the bearer
of bad news to her.’

‘Indeed, sir?’ said the man.

‘Yes, though it is the best possible for all the rest of you. Your
master is about to be married very shortly to a young lady in Malta.
There will be high jinks for all of you servants when he brings his
bride home to England, but you must know what it will mean for _her_,’
jerking his thumb towards the upper storey.

‘Well, naturally,’ acquiesced the footman with a wink.

‘She won’t be here long, but you must make her as comfortable as you
can during her stay. And you are welcome to tell the news everywhere.
It’s no secret. I’ve a letter from the earl in my pocket to say he
will bring her ladyship home in time for the Christmas festivities at
Thistlemere. Good morning.’

‘Good morning, sir,’ echoed the footman, and rushed down to the
servants’ hall to disseminate the tidings.

Meanwhile Nell, with her limbs as cold as stone, and all her pulses
at fever heat, was dashing off the impassioned letter which Lord
Ilfracombe received a few days after his wedding.

     ‘MY DARLING, MY OWN,’ she wrote, heedless of who should
     see the letter,--‘Mr Sterndale has just been here to tell
     me you are thinking of getting married. But it is not
     true--I don’t believe it--I told him so to his face. Oh,
     Ilfracombe, it cannot be true. Write to me for God’s sake
     as soon as you receive this, and tell me it is a lie. The
     old man has said it to make me miserable--to try and get
     rid of me. He has always hated me, and been jealous of
     my influence over you. And yet--he showed me a letter in
     your handwriting, or what looked just like it, in which
     you said that it was true. My God! is it possible? Can
     you seriously think of deserting me? Oh, no, I will not
     believe it till you tell me so yourself. You could not part
     with me after all these years. Darling, think of the time
     when you first saw me at Mrs Beresford’s, when she brought
     you up into the nursery to see her little baby, and I
     was sitting on a footstool before the fire nursing it. I
     stood up when you and my mistress entered, but instead
     of looking at the baby, you looked at me. I overheard
     Mrs Beresford chaff you about it as you went downstairs
     again, and you said,--“Well, you shouldn’t have such lovely
     nursemaids then.” I was only twenty, dearest, and with no
     more sense than a town-bred girl of sixteen. I dreamed of
     those words of yours, and I dreamed of you as the noblest
     and handsomest gentleman I had ever seen, as indeed you
     were. And then you began to call at Mrs Beresford’s two
     and three times a week and to meet me in the park, until
     that happy day came when you asked me if I would leave
     my place and be your housekeeper in Grosvenor Square. I
     thought it was a grand rise for me, and wrote and told
     my people so; but even then I didn’t guess at what you
     meant or that you loved me in _that_ way. Ilfracombe, you
     _know_ I was an innocent, good girl when I first came to
     this house, and that I shouldn’t have ever been otherwise
     had you not persuaded me that if our hearts were truly
     each others our marriage would be as lasting as if we had
     gone to church together. I believed you. I knew it was
     wrong, but I loved you and I believed you. Oh, my own
     only darling, don’t desert me now. What is to become of
     me if you do? I can’t go back to my own people. I am no
     longer fit to associate with them. You have raised me to
     the dignity of your companionship. You have unfitted me
     for country life, and how can I go out to service again?
     Who would take me? Everybody knows our history. I have no
     character. Darling, do you remember the time when you had
     the typhoid fever and were so ill, we thought that you
     would die. Oh, what a fearful time that was. And when you
     recovered you were going to marry me, at least you said
     so, and I was so happy, and yet so afraid of what your
     family would think. But you had quite made up your mind
     about it, till Mr Sterndale heard you mention the subject
     and talked you out of it. You never told me, but I guessed
     it all the same. I never reproached you for it, did I?
     or reminded you of your promise. I knew I was no fit wife
     for you--only fit to love and serve you as I have done,
     gladly and faithfully. How can you marry another woman when
     I have been your wife for three long, happy years? Won’t
     the remembrance of me come between you and her? Won’t you
     often think of the many, many times you have declared you
     should never think of marrying whilst I lived--that I was
     your wife to all intents and purposes, and that any other
     woman would seem an interloper. Oh, Ilfracombe, do try and
     remember all these things before you perpetrate an action
     for which you will reproach yourself all your life. I know
     your nature. Who should know it so well as I? You are weak
     and easily led, but you are sensitive and generous, and I
     know you will not forget me easily. Dearest, write to me
     and tell me it is a lie, and I will serve you all my life
     as no servant and no wife will ever do. For you are far
     more than a husband to me. You are my world and my all--my
     one friend--my one hope and support. Oh, Ilfracombe, don’t
     leave me. I live in you and your love, and if you desert me
     I cannot live. For God’s sake--for the sake of Heaven--for
     your honour’s sake, don’t leave me,--Your broken-hearted

So the poor girl wrote, as other poor, forsaken wretches have written
before her, thinking to move the heart of a man who was already tired
of her. As soon hope to move the heart of a stone as that of a lover
hot on a new fancy. Her letter reached him, as we have seen, when
the step she deprecated was taken beyond remedy, but it stirred his
sense of having committed an injustice if it could not requicken his
burnt-out flame. He did not know how to answer it. He had nothing
to say in defence of himself, or his broken promises. So, like many
a man in similar circumstances, he shirked his duty, and seized the
first opportunity that presented itself of putting it on the shoulders
of someone else. Since Sterndale had failed in his commission, the
newspaper must convey to his cast-off mistress the news she refused
to believe. So he posted the little sheet of paper printed for the
edification of the British residents in Malta, to her address, and
transcribed it in his own hand. She couldn’t make any mistake about
_that_, he said to himself, as he returned to the agreeable task of
making love to his countess. But the incident did not increase the
flavour of his courtship. There is a sense called Memory that has on
occasions an inconveniently loud voice and not the slightest scruple in
making itself heard, when least required. The Earl of Ilfracombe had
yet to learn if the charms of his newly-wedded wife were sufficiently
powerful to have made it worth his while, in order to possess them, to
have invoked the demon of Memory to dog his footsteps for the remainder
of his life. But for the nonce he put it away from him as an unclean
thing. Nora, Countess of Ilfracombe, reigned triumphant, and Nell
Llewellyn, disgraced and disherited, was ordered to ‘move on,’ and find
herself another home! Meanwhile, she awaited her lover’s answer in his
own house. She refused to ‘move on’ until she received it.

It was a very miserable fortnight. She felt, for the first time, so
debased and degraded, that she would not leave the house, but sat
indoors all day, without employment and without hope, only waiting in
silence and despair for the assurance of the calamity that had been
announced to her. Her sufferings were augmented at this time by the
altered demeanour of the servants towards her. She had always been
an indulgent mistress, and they had liked her, so that she did not
experience anything like rudeness at their hands. On the contrary, it
was the increase of their attentions and familiarity that annoyed and
made her more unhappy. She read in it, too surely, the signs of the
coming times; the signs that they knew her reign was over, and the
marriage of their master a certain thing. Nell felt as if she had been
turned to stone in those days, as if the wheels of her life’s machinery
had been arrested, and all she could do was to await the verdict. It
came all too soon. One lovely night, about a fortnight after she had
written to Lord Ilfracombe, a newspaper was put into her hand. This
was such a very unusual occurrence, that she tore off the wrapper
hastily, and turned the sheets over with trembling fingers. She was not
long in finding the announcement of her death warrant.

‘On the 28th of July, at Malta, the Right Honourable the Earl of
Ilfracombe, to Leonora Adelaide Maria, fourth daughter of Admiral Sir
Richard Abinger, R.N.C.B.’

And in another part of the paper was a long description of the wedding
festivities, the number of invited guests, and the dresses of the bride
and bridesmaids. Miss Llewellyn read the account through to the very
end, and then tottered to her feet to seek her bedroom.

‘Lor’, miss, you do look bad!’ exclaimed a sympathising housemaid, whom
she met on the way--it was a significant fact that since the news of
his lordship’s intended marriage had been made public in the servants’
hall, poor Nell had been degraded from madam to miss,--‘let me fetch
you a cup of tea, or a drop of brandy and water. Now do, there’s a
dear. You might have seen a ghost by the look of you.’

‘No, thank you, Sarah,’ replied Miss Llewellyn, with a faint smile;
‘you are very kind, but I have not met a ghost, only the day has been
warm and I long for a breath of fresh air. Don’t worry about me. I will
go out into the square for half an hour, and that will do me good.’

The servant went on her way, and Nell turned into her bedroom. What a
luxurious room it was. The furniture was upholstered in soft shades
of grey and pink, and the walls were hung with engravings, all chosen
by the earl himself. There was a spring couch by the fireplace before
which was spread a thick white fur rug. The toilet-table was strewn
with toys of china and glass and silver. It was the room of a lady, but
it was Nell’s no longer. She walked deliberately to the toilet-table,
and, opening her trinket case, examined its contents, to see if
everything she had received at her lover’s hands was in its place. Then
she quietly took off her dainty little watch, encrusted with diamonds,
and her bangle bracelets, and two or three handsome rings which he had
given her, amongst which was a wedding-ring which she usually wore.
She put them all carefully in the trinket-case, and scribbling on the
outside of an old envelope, in pencil, the words, ‘Good-bye, my only
love, I cannot live without you,’ she placed it with the jewellery,
and, locking the box, threw the key out of the window.

‘That will prevent the servants opening it,’ she thought. ‘They will be
afraid to force the lock, but _he_ will, by-and-by, and then he will
guess the truth. I do not rob him much by taking this gown,’ she said,
smiling mournfully, as she gazed at her simple print frock, ‘and he
would not mind if I did. He was always generous, to me and everybody.’
Then, overburdened by a sudden rush of memory, she sank on her knees by
the couch crying, ‘Oh my love, my love! why did you leave me? It is so
very, very hard to part with you thus.’

But when her little outburst was over, Nell dried her eyes, and crept
softly downstairs. It was dark by this time; the servants were making
merry over their supper in the hall; and the crowds, not having yet
issued from the theatres, the streets were comparatively free. Nell
walked straight but steadily through Piccadilly and the Strand till
she came to Waterloo Street. She was dressed so quietly and walking so
deliberately that a stranger might have thought she was going to see a
friend; certainly no one would have dreamt of the fire of passion that
was raging in her breast. No one looked round at her--not an official
of the law asked her business, or followed in her track. She even
turned to cross Waterloo Bridge without exciting any suspicion in the
bystanders. Why should she not be a peaceful citizen like the rest of
them, bent on a common errand? Had it been later at night, it might
have been different. It was the early hour of ten, and the crowded
pathway that lulled all suspicion. Yet Nell was as distraught as any
lunatic who ever contemplated suicide. She was walking to her death,
and it was only a proof of the state of her mind that she went without
a thought excepting that the rest of forgetfulness was so near. As she
came to the centre of the bridge, she stopped for a moment and looked
over the coping wall at the calm water.

‘How deep it is,’ she thought. ‘What a fool I am to deliberate. It will
be over in a minute, and it will be so sweet never to dream again.’

As she mused in this manner, she gave a sudden leap and was over before
the passersby could catch hold of her clothing. They gave the alarm at
once, and a policeman, who was half way down on the other side, heard
it and came hurrying up. But the waters of old Father Thames, who has
received so many of his despairing children to his bosom, had already
closed over the bright hair and beautiful face of Nell Llewellyn.

                              CHAPTER VI.

All the women who had witnessed the accident hung over the parapet of
the bridge, screaming at the top of their voices after the manner of
their kind, whilst the men ran off for assistance. The police were
summoned; boats, with grappling irons, were put out, and every effort
made to rescue the unfortunate suicide, but in vain. Nothing was seen
or heard of the body. No crafts had been immediately under the bridge
at the moment. Two or three empty barges were moored in its vicinity,
but their black beams could tell no tales. The search was not given
up until it was pronounced unavailing, and the police went back to
report the circumstance at headquarters. Next morning there appeared a
paragraph in the dailies with the headline--‘Mysterious Suicide from
Waterloo Bridge.’

‘Last evening, as the large audiences were turning out of the
transpontine theatres, and wending their way homewards, a thrilling
accident, or what may have been so, occurred on Waterloo Bridge. A
tall, lady-like, well-dressed young woman, was walking quietly amongst
the passengers, apparently as soberly-disposed as any amongst them,
when, without sound or warning, she suddenly vaulted over the parapet
and dashed into the river. The act was so unpremeditated, and took the
bystanders so completely by surprise, that there was no opportunity of
preventing the terrible catastrophe. The peaceful crowd was immediately
transformed into an agitated mass; all striving to give the alarm, or
aid in rescuing the unfortunate woman. The police behaved magnificently
on the occasion. In less time than we could write the words, boats
were put out and every possible assistance given, but no trace of the
body could be found though the grappling-irons were used in every
direction. It is supposed that she must have fractured her skull
against one of the empty barges moored in proximity to the bridge,
and sunk beyond recall. The occurrence created a painful sensation
among the bystanders. Women were fainting, and men rushing about in
all directions. Some people, who had followed the unfortunate woman
across the bridge from the Strand, describe her to have had a tall and
very elegant figure, and say that she was dressed in a black mantle,
and wore a broad, black hat with a drooping feather. Everybody seems
agreed that she did not belong to the lower classes, and it is to be
feared, from the determination with which she sprang over the parapet,
that her loss can be ascribed to nothing but deliberate suicide. The
police are on the look-out for the body, which will probably turn up
further down the river, when some light may be thrown on the identity
of the unfortunate lady. The strangers who walked in her wake across
the bridge observed that she possessed an abundant quantity of bright
chestnut hair, coiled low upon her neck, and that her hands, which
were bare, were long and white. This makes the fifteenth suicide that
has taken place from Waterloo Bridge in twelve months.’

Mr Sterndale, the solicitor, sitting alone in his office, read this
paragraph, and was very much struck by it, especially as Warrender,
Lord Ilfracombe’s butler, had been to see him not half an hour ago
with the intelligence that Miss Llewellyn had left the house the
night before and not been home since. Mr Sterndale, with his cynical
ideas concerning women, had not paid much attention nor attached much
importance to the man’s statement. He thought the quondam housekeeper
of Grosvenor Square had found another place, or another lover, and no
longer held herself responsible to the earl or anybody else for what
she might choose to do. He had told Warrender that he did not think
there was any reason for alarm; that Miss Llewellyn was quite old
enough to take care of herself, and that she had probably gone to visit
friends and spent the night with them. She would be sure to return for
her boxes. The butler had not seemed satisfied.

‘But, begging your pardon, sir, the maid who saw her last, Susan,
says she was looking very ill, poor lady! She said she was going into
the square for a breath of fresh air, and it was past nine o’clock
then. Susan and I waited up for Miss Llewellyn till twelve, and then
I only lay down on the bench in the hall till four this morning. But
she never came back, and, begging your pardon, sir, it’s what Miss
Llewellyn haven’t never done, not since she’s been under his lordship’s

‘Ah, well, Warrender, she’s got her orders to quit, you know, and I
daresay she considers she can do as she likes, as indeed there’s no
reason she should not. She’s a very obstinate young woman or she would
have left the house before now, and she’s putting me to a great deal of
inconvenience. Indeed, if she does not leave soon, she will compel me
to exercise the authority vested in me by Lord Ilfracombe, and order
her to pack up her boxes and go.’

The old servant looked troubled.

‘Oh, I hope not, sir, I hope not. Perhaps it’s not my place to say
anything, but Miss Llewellyn has been a kind mistress to us all, and so
much at home, and--there, there, I don’t understand these things, of
course, and what’s for his lordship’s good is for the good of all of
us; but there’s not a servant in the hall but will be sorry that poor
Miss Llewellyn is to be the sufferer. She had a kind heart, poor thing!
if any lady had.’

‘No doubt, Warrender, no doubt. No one denies that she has good
qualities, but they have been exercised greatly to the detriment of the
earl. Young men will be young men, but there comes a time when such
things must be put a stop to, and the time has come to stop this. You
will have a legal mistress now--a lady of high birth, who will rule the
house as it should be ruled, and the sooner you all forget that such a
person as Miss Llewellyn existed the better!’

‘Perhaps so, sir; but, meanwhile, what are we to do about this?’

‘Do nothing at all! She will come back safe enough, you may depend
upon that, and I will write to her to-morrow and tell her she must fix
a day for leaving the house. I want to put the workmen in as soon as

‘Very good, sir,’ said the butler, humbly, as he retired.

But the next thing Mr Sterndale did was to read the account in his
_Standard_ of Nell’s attempted suicide, and the coincidence naturally
struck him. It did not flurry him in the least. It only made the
thought flash through his mind what a fortunate thing it would be if
it were true. He threw up his engagements for the day and took his way
at once to the river police station to make all possible inquiries
about the suicide. He did not hear much more than he had read; but the
description of the woman’s figure and dress, together with the time the
accident occurred, all tallied so wonderfully with the fact of Nell’s
disappearance, that the solicitor considered that he had every reason
to hope it might have been herself who had thus most opportunely left
the course clear for the happiness of Lord Ilfracombe and his bride.
He seconded the efforts of the police to discover the truth, offering
a handsome reward for the recovery of the body for identification, and
when a week passed without its being found, or Miss Llewellyn returning
to Grosvenor Square, he considered it his duty to institute a search
amongst the property she had left behind to see if he could find any
clue to the mystery. He told the servants that he did so in order to
try and find an address to send them after her to; but they all knew
by this time that something had happened to their late mistress, and
that it was unlikely they should ever see her again, and, to do them
justice, there was very sincere sorrow in the servants’ hall at the
idea. Mr Sterndale would not allow anybody to assist him in his search.
He ransacked poor Nell’s chest of drawers and wardrobe by himself,
turned over her dainty dresses and laced and embroidered stock of
linen, opened all her workbags and boxes, her desk and blotting books,
but found not a line to intimate she had entertained any idea of taking
her own life.

‘Pooh!’ said Mr Sterndale to himself, as he wiped the dew off his pale
face, ‘I’ve been alarming myself for nothing! It’s another lover the
jade will be looking after, and not a watery grave! People in their
right mind don’t commit suicide, and she was as sane as I am. She has
most probably sought shelter with Mr Jack Portland or some other of the
earl’s swell friends. I know she was universally admired, and there
will be a rush to the bidding as soon as it becomes known that she’s
put up for sale. However, these pretty things had better be put under
lock and key till his lordship sends word how they are to be disposed

With that he came to the trinket-case which Nell had locked, and the
key of which she had thrown out of the window.

‘Holloa!’ he thought, ‘what is this? Another workbox? No. I fancy it
is the sort of article women keep their rings in. He gave her some
beauties; but I don’t suppose she has been such a fool as to leave them
behind her.’

He tried every key on a bunch he had found on the dressing-table,
but none would fit; so, after a few attempts with another bunch from
his own pocket, he took out his penknife and prised the lock open.
The first thing he saw, laid on the top of the rings, brooches and
bracelets, was Nell’s pathetic message to her lover. ‘Good-bye, my only
love--I cannot live without you!’ Mr Sterndale read it, and shivered
like an aspen leaf. Had Nell’s ghost stood by his side, he could not
have been more alarmed and nervous. ‘Good-bye, my only love--I cannot
live without you!’ he muttered to himself, while he trembled anew and
glanced fearfully over his shoulder.

‘So that must really have been her, and she has destroyed herself!’ he
thought. ‘I never really believed it would come to that--never. But it
is Lord Ilfracombe’s concern, not mine. It was he that drove her to it.
I only acted on his orders, and I am bound to obey him, if he tells me
to do a thing. But who would have thought it was in her. She must have
felt his marriage very much. I didn’t believe it was _in_ women to care
for any man to such an extent. But, perhaps, after all, it was only the
loss of her position, illegal as it was, that turned her a bit crazy.
It can’t be pleasant after having enjoyed such a home as this to go
back to work. Yet she wouldn’t take the money he offered her--a noble
compensation. She didn’t seem to think even that enough. Well, well, it
is incomprehensible. All the female sex are. To think that she should
have preferred death--death! But what am I saying? It may not have been
Miss Llewellyn after all. We have no proof. Doubtless, it was some
unfortunate who had come to the end of her tether. But it would never
do to tell Lord Ilfracombe my suspicions--not yet, at all events, while
he is on his wedding tour. Time enough when he has sobered down into
a steady married man; then, perhaps, the news will come rather as a
relief from all fear of meeting the object of his youthful indiscretion
again. Yet, under the water--that beautiful face and figure! It seems
too terrible. I must not think of it. There is no reason it should
trouble me in the very slightest degree.’

Mr Sterndale rung the bell at this juncture, and ordered the lady’s
maid, who had waited upon Miss Llewellyn, to have all her belongings
properly packed and locked away, until his lordship’s pleasure
concerning them should be known. But the trinket-box he put his own
seal on, and carried off to place in his safe with other property
belonging to his client. Yet Mr Sterndale, try as he would, could not
lock away with it all remembrance of the woman whom he firmly believed
to be lying stark and dead beneath the water. His last interview with
her kept on returning to his memory, and made him wretched. Her proud,
flashing glances, her complete incredulity, and then her bowed head and
subdued voice; her attitude of utter despair, her silence, and her
final accusation that her lover’s determination had been brought about
through his influence. It had in a great measure been so; he knew it
and had confessed as much to her. And so she had thought fit to end the
matter. Very foolish, very rash, and decidedly unpleasant to think of.
So he would put the remembrance away from him at once and for ever. He
informed the servants that Miss Llewellyn had returned home to her own
people, and that her things were to remain there until they received
further orders.

But none of them believed his story.

Meantime, Nell’s complete disappearance, though apparently so
mysterious, was in reality no mystery at all. Few things are, when once
unravelled. Her precipitate fall into the water had brought her head
downwards against the black side of an empty barge. The blow stunned
her, and she was immediately sucked under, and borne by the running
current some way lower down, where her body rose under the bows of a
rowing boat, whose owners were just preparing to shelve her on the
mud-bank which fringes either side the Thames. They were watermen of
the lowest class, but honest and kindly-hearted.

‘’Ullo, Jim,’ cried one of them, as Nell’s body rose alongside, ‘what’s
that? By Gawd, if it isn’t a woman’s ’and. Here, give us an ’and, and
lift ’er over. Quick, now, will yer?’

‘It’s a corpus,’ said Jim, shrinking back, as most people do from
contact with the dead. ‘Let it be, Garge. Don’t bring it over here.
It’s no concarn of ourn, and the perlice will find it soon enough. Row
on, man, do, and leave it be’ind. The look of it’s quite enough for me.’

‘You’re a nice ’un,’ retorted Garge, as he leant over the boat’s side
and seized hold of Nell Llewellyn. ‘What d’ye mean? Would yer leave a
poor gal to drown, when maybe she ain’t ’alf dead? Here, lend an ’and,
will yer, or I’ll knock yer bloomin’ brains out with my oar.’

Thus admonished, Jim joined his forces to those of his comrade, and
by their united efforts they hauled the body into the boat. As soon
as Garge saw her lovely face, which looked, almost unearthly in its
beauty, he became eager to take her home to his mother, to be succoured
and taken care of.

‘Now, Garge, mark what I’m sayin’ of,’ argued Jim, ‘you ’ad better by
’alf take ’er to the station at once. ’Tain’t no business of yourn, and
you’ll maybe get into trouble by taking it on yerself. She’s committed
suicide, there’s where it is, and you should leave ’er to the perlice.
I thought I ’eard a lot o’ shoutin’ from the bridge jest now, and it
was after this ’ere, you may take yer oath of it. A bad lot all round,
and will bring you into trouble. Now, be wise and jest drop ’er into
the water agin. She’s as dead as a door-nail!’

‘That’s yer opinion, is it?’ said Garge, contemptuously; ‘and ’ow long
’ave you sot up as a doctor, eh? Now, jest do as I tell yer, or I’ll
know the reason why. Lift ’er up by the petticoats, and I’ll take ’er
’ead and shoulders. That’s it, and now for mother’s.’

‘Mother’s’ was the cellar floor of one of those tenements which abound
on the river’s side, and afford shelter for the ‘water-rats’ who make
their living on its bosom and its shores. The two young men had not far
to carry their burden, but Nell was heavy, and they stumbled over the
threshold of the house and down the cellar steps, and were glad enough
to lay her dripping body on the floor.

‘Hello, lads, what ’ave yer got there?’ exclaimed an old woman, who
came out of the Cimmerian darkness, carrying a tallow candle stuck in
the neck of an old beer bottle. ‘Mercy me! not a corpus, surely? Why,
what on airth made you bring it in ’ere? A gal too, and a purty one!
Garge; tell me the rights of it all, or I’ll ’ave none of ’er ’ere.’

‘Theer ain’t no rights, nor wrongs neither, mother,’ replied Garge,
‘only this body floated under our bows, and I don’t believe the pore
gal is dead, and no one knows better ’ow to rewive a corpus than you
do, so we carried ’er ’ome to you at onst. She’s a lady, and maybe
a rich ’un, and you may git a good reward for rewivin’ ’er, from ’er
friends. So, wheer’s the blankets and the ’ot water? Yer’ve got some
bilin’ to make our tea, I know, and I’ll go and call Mrs Benson to ’elp
yer with ’er.’

‘That’s it my lad,’ replied the mother, who, though most people would
have designated her as a filthy hag, was a kind-hearted old body. ‘And
Jim and you must make yerself scarce for to-night, for I can’t do
nothin’ till you two are gone. Take Garge ’ome with you, Jim, and if
this gal’s too fur gone to do anything with, yer must give notice fust
thing in the mornin’ to the perlice, for I can’t keep a dead body ’ere
longer than the mornin’.’

‘I don’t believe as she is dead,’ said Garge, who had been bending
over Nell’s body and listening with his ear upon her chest. ‘Yer can’t
deceive me much, yer know, mother, for I’ve seen too many on ’em.
’Owever, I’ll fetch Mrs Benson at once, and I’ll look in larst thing to
’ear your news.’

The old woman had lighted a fire by this time and dragged the body in
front of it, and as soon as her neighbour joined her, they commenced
rubbing and thumping and chafing the limbs of the apparently drowned
girl, and though their remedies were rough, they were successful, for
after some fifteen or twenty minutes of this treatment, Nell sighed
deeply, gasped for breath, and finally opened her eyes and looked at
her good Samaritans. She attempted to rise, but they held her down with
their strong hands, and continued their original massage treatment with
redoubled energy. At last their patient ejaculated, ‘Where am I?’ Which
is invariably the first question asked by a woman recovering from a fit
of unconsciousness.

‘Wheer are ye, honey?’ repeated Garge’s mother. ‘Why, afore the fire,
of course, and on the floor, which is rather a hard bed I ’spect for
one like you, but we’d no better place to lay you on.’

‘But how did I come here?’ said Nell, and then, as remembrance poured
back upon her, she moaned,--‘Ah, the water, I remember, the water!’
and closed her eyes again. But as her strength returned more fully she
started to a sitting posture and cried fiercely,--‘Who brought me here?
Who told you to do this? What right have you to interfere with me? I
thought it would have been all over by this time, and now it has all to
come over again--all over again!’

‘Oh, no, it won’t, honey,’ replied her companion. ‘You won’t go to
do any think so foolish agin. Why, you’ve as near lost yer life as
possible. It wore jest touch and go with yer, wern’t it, Mrs Benson?’

‘That it wure, indeed,’ said that worthy. ‘And you’re too fine a gal
to throw yerself away in sich a fashion, yer should leave that sorter
thing to the poor gutter drabs. My Garge, ’e found yer and brought yer
’ome, and I’ve no doubt you’ve fine friends as will be real glad to git
yer back agin!’

‘No, I haven’t. I have no friends,’ said Nell.

‘What, no father nor mother?’ exclaimed her hostess. ‘Pore gal! But
I daresay you’ve got a young man, or if yer ’aven’t yer’ll git one.
You’re much too fine a gal to go beggin’. And whatever made yer think
of makin’ an ’ole in the water puzzles me. Now, you jest wrap this
blanket right round yer, and drink this posset. ’Tain’t to yer taste,
p’r’aps, but ’tis the best thing out to warm your blood arter a

She held a filthy mug, filled with a filthy but steaming decoction
of treacle and beer to Nell’s lips as she spoke, and the girl opened
her mouth mechanically and took it all in. Then, sickened of life and
everything in it, including the treacle posset, she rolled herself in
the blanket, and with her face towards the fire, sunk into a sleep
of exhaustion and despair. Garge, true to his trust, sneaked round
at about midnight to ask what news there was of his patient, and was
delighted in his rough way to hear that she had recovered.

‘She _is_ a beauty!’ he exclaimed, as he gazed at her pale face, on
which the light of the burning logs was playing; ‘a rale rare ’un,
that’s wot I thinks! Don’t yer let that fire out afore the morning,
mother, for she’ll feel cold when she wakes though it is so ’ot; and
now, wasn’t I wise to bring ’er ’ome, ’stead of the perlice station. I
bet yer’ll make a pot of money over this, mother, ’stead of the coppers
takin’ it. Well, good-night, and don’t yer let ’er go till I’ve seen
’er agin in the mornin’.’

But long before Garge’s mother had roused herself again her visitor
had gone. The old woman was tired with the exertions she had made on
her behalf, and had taken just the smallest drop of gin to quiet her
own perturbed feelings before she turned into bed. But Nell had soon
started up from her short, feverish slumber, and lain before the fire
with wide-open eyes, staring at the flickering flames, and wondering
what the next move of her unhappy life would be. The old woman’s
words rang in her ears. ‘What! no father nor mother? Pore gal!’ How
ungrateful it had been of her not to remember that she had both father
and mother, before she took the fatal plunge which might have separated
her from them for ever. Already she felt ashamed of her impetuosity
and despair. She resolved, as she lay there, that she would go back to
her parents and her home. She would return to Panty-cuckoo Farm, and
try to forget that she had ever left it. It would be sweet, she thought
feverishly, to smell the woodbine and the roses again--it would cool
her brain to lie down on the dewy grass and press her hot cheek to the
wild thyme and the daisies that bedecked it. Her mind was still in a
bewildered and chaotic state, or Nell would have dreaded the questions
that awaited her at Panty-cuckoo Farm; but, luckily, it led her in
the right direction. A sudden horror of the publicity she had courted
by her rash act took possession of her, and she panted to get up and
away before the good Samaritans who had brought her back to life were
able to gain any particulars regarding her name or former condition.
With this desire strong upon her, she raised herself, weak as she
was, and glanced at her surroundings. The logs still burnt brightly
on the hearth; the old woman snored mellifluously on a pallet in the
corner--for the rest, she was alone. The clothes they had taken off
her were hung out to dry on a chair. Nell felt them. They were fit to
put on again. She raised herself gently and resumed her attire, which
consisted of a dark print dress, a black mantle and a large straw
hat, which had not become detached from her head when she went under
the water. But she could not go without leaving some token of her
gratitude behind her. She felt in the pocket of her dress. Her purse
was still there, and it contained several pounds. Nell took out two,
and, wrapping them in a piece of paper, placed them in a conspicuous
position on the chair. Then she crept softly across the cellar, and,
climbing the stone steps that led to the entrance of the tenement,
found, to her relief, that the outer door was ajar. There were too many
people in the house, and they were of too lawless a kind for anyone to
notice her departure, or think it singular if they had. The dawn was
just breaking as Nell stepped into the open air; and, though she knew
she must look very forlorn, the few wayfarers whom she encountered
looked more forlorn still, and no one molested or questioned her. She
found she had sufficient money to take her straight away to Usk had
she so desired, but she dared not present herself before her people in
her present draggled state. So she went into a little lodging in the
Waterloo Road, where she was confident that no one would recognise her;
and, after staying two nights there, she had so far remedied the state
of her wardrobe as to feel able to go back to Wales without exciting
too much inquiry. But still, Nell was far from being in her normal
condition, and moved and spoke like a woman in a dream.

                              CHAPTER VII.

When visitors went for the first time to Usk, and their hostesses
wished to imbue them with a sense of the beauties of the place, they
generally said, ‘Oh, let us drive to Panty-cuckoo Farm! You must
not leave Usk without seeing Panty-cuckoo Farm! The sweetest, most
picturesque old place you ever set eyes on; quite a leaf out of the
past ages. Sir Archibald Bowmant says it dates from the fourteenth
century. And Mrs Llewellyn is such a quaint old woman. You don’t meet
with such people in her class now-a-days. We always have our eggs and
butter and pork from her, and she will give us a lovely cup of tea,
with the best of cream. You must come!’

And the visitors usually agreed that their hostess’s description of
the farm and its inhabitants had not been exaggerated, and came back
delighted with what they had seen. They drove for some way out of the
town of Usk, along an undulating road, almost overshadowed by the
meeting branches of lofty elm and oak trees, and fringed by hedges,
fragrant at this time of year with meadowsweet and climbing travellers’
joy and wild roses. A sudden curve in the road brought them to a wide,
white gate, which led by a most precipitous pathway to the farmhouse.
On either side this pathway were placed large, whitewashed blocks of
stone, to enable the wheels of cart or carriage to keep from rolling
into the little trench by which it was bordered. On one side the trench
or ditch was a large orchard stretching away beyond where the eye
could reach, and well stocked with apple, and pear, and cherry trees.
Beneath their shade were numerous coops of hens, with their broods of
little white chickens scattered round them like fallen blossoms of
May; and flying like the wind at their mother’s call, as the black
porkers, for which Farmer Llewellyn was famous, came grunting behind
each other, eating the windfalls, and turning the refuse over with
their ringed snouts. Opposite to the orchard was a plot of grass,
which ran along the side of the house, and was decorated by garden
beds, filled with carnations, lilies, mignonette, geraniums, and such
common sweet-smelling flowers. This part of the house had been built
subsequently to the original portion, and had a side entrance of its
own beneath a little porch covered with honeysuckle and clematis. It
consisted of only two rooms, and as the farmer’s family had never
consisted of more than his two daughters, Mrs Llewellyn had been in the
habit of letting these rooms to casual visitors to Usk who required
a lodging for a few nights. Especially had they been at the service
of Sir Archibald Bowmant during the shooting season, as he often had
more bachelors staying at Usk Hall than he could accommodate, and
knew he could trust their comfort with safety to his old tenant, Mrs
Llewellyn. Sir Archibald’s woods skirted the road opposite Panty-cuckoo
Farm, so that his guests had only to cross the park to gain their
nightly lodgings, and so much trust had Mrs Llewellyn in her landlord’s
visitors, that when her rooms were occupied she let the young gentlemen
come and go as they liked, without holding any inquisitorial espionage
over their proceedings. But this wing of the house had nothing to do
with the farm itself; visitors to the Llewellyns drove straight down
the precipitous drive till they turned round at the foot to face the
front of the farm, which consisted of a low, rambling building, of dark
red brick, with a thatched roof. Before it was a prim, old-fashioned
strip of ground, guarded by a row of eight box trees, cut in the shape
of peacocks. On the walls of the house were a magnificent magnolia, and
some plants of the crimson pyrus japonica, which gave it a wonderfully
warm appearance. As soon as carriage wheels were heard, Mrs Llewellyn
usually opened the door and came down the bricked path to welcome
her visitors. She would never hear of their leaving before they had
partaken of her tea and cream. The parlour was entered immediately
from the front door, and was wainscotted half-way to the ceiling with
rich, dark oak, of which the ceiling itself was formed, divided into
squares, with a plain but different device carved in each. The windows
of this room were lattice-paned, and contained window-seats in the
shape of oak settles, which opened like boxes to store the house linen.
The fireplace was a mass of carving, without any mantelpiece, but a
wide range below for logs, and iron dogs on either side to support
them. Mrs Llewellyn much prided herself on this parlour. She knew
the value and beauty of it as much as anybody, though she sometimes
grumbled at its inconveniences, and said she would exchange it any day
for a modern-built house. It opened into a wide, bricked passage, or
ante-room, where the farmer hung his coats, and a table stood piled
with the prayer-books of the family, ready to be distributed when
church time came round again. Nell’s still lay amongst them. Her mother
often sighed when she accidentally touched it; sometimes she had been
seen to raise it furtively to her lips before she laid it down again.
It was outside this ante-chamber that the two rooms had been added
that were occasionally let as lodgings, and the door, which originally
had opened from it to the garden, now led to them. Visitors passed
through it to the dairy, where the shelves were piled with the year’s
cheeses, and marble slabs held the mounds of fresh butter, waiting
to be made into rolls or pats by the rosy-cheeked dairymaid, and the
pans were standing covered with thick, rich, yellow cream, such as Mrs
Llewellyn was famed for all the country side. This dairy led across
a covered-in yard to the baking-house, and in the centre of the yard
stood a well, centuries old, with an Elizabethan cross surmounting its
quaint, arched roof. In fact, there was no end to the curiosities in
Panty-cuckoo Farm, and ladies with purses full of money had tried over
and over again to induce the farmer and his wife to part with some of
their bits of blue china, and yellow lace, and old wood carving, that
they might carry them back to adorn their drawing-rooms in Kensington
or Westminster. But the Llewellyns were steadfast in their courteous
refusals. No amount of coin would have made them sell the little relics
that adorned their rooms, and had come down to them from unknown
ancestors. They would as soon have sold their own flesh and blood.
There was something about these people above the general run of farmers
and their wives. Countrified they necessarily were, but not vulgar nor
common, and even in the lowly position they occupied they managed to
infuse so much dignity that even their superiors recognised it, and met
it with respect. It was rather an important occasion with Mrs Llewellyn
when we are first introduced to her, for her daughter Hetty was coming,
with her husband and several of her new relations, to take tea at
Panty-cuckoo Farm for the first time since her return from London, and
her mother was eager to do her honour. Mrs Llewellyn had evidently been
a very handsome woman in her youth, and as she moved about her rooms,
clad in her gala dress of grey merino, with a white muslin kerchief
pinned across her bosom, and a large cap covering her iron-grey hair,
it was evident from whom poor Nell had inherited the beauty that had
proved such a misfortune to her. Tall and upright, with a fresh colour
in her face, and her hazel eyes beaming with expectation and pride in
her table, Mrs Llewellyn looked quite a picture as she moved about
her room and arranged the feast for her expected guests. The brown
bread and fresh butter, the cream and new-laid eggs, the honeycomb and
home-made preserves, the cut ham and water-cresses, made up a picture
of beauty that any housewife might have been proud of; and Farmer
Llewellyn chuckled with satisfaction as he sat in one of the window
settles and watched the tempting display.

‘That’s right, wife!’ he exclaimed, ‘stuff them well. You’ll get more
friends through their stomachs than you’ll ever do through their

‘Oh, Griffith,’ she replied, ‘that’s a poor way of looking at it; not
but what a good meal’s a good thing after all. But I shouldn’t like
the Owens to go home and say they hadn’t had enough to eat. And it’s
our Hetty’s first visit, too,’ and here Mrs Llewellyn heaved a deep

‘What’s up now?’ said her husband. ‘You can’t expect to keep your girls
with you for ever, you know, Mary; and William Owen is as good a lad as
ever stepped in shoe leather, and will keep our Hetty well. We might
have gone further and fared worse for a husband for her.’

‘Oh, yes, I know that, father, and I’m quite satisfied. I like Will
myself. He’s like a son to me. No, I wasn’t thinking of Hetty at all,
but of our Nell. I’ve been thinking of her a deal lately. I don’t seem
as if I could get her out of my mind. It seems so hard that Hetty
should see her and not I. Five years is a long time not to set eyes on
one’s own child. Sometimes the longing for a sight of her is so bad, I
feel as if I must go up to London, if I walk every step of the way.’

‘Oh, that’s the way the crow flies,’ chuckled the farmer. ‘You’re
jealous of your daughter, are you? You’ll be worrying me to take you a
second honeymoon tour next. _You_ want to see London town, now.’

‘Oh, Grif, how I wish I could, not for the sake of the sights, you
know. The only sight I want is that of my girl. If I had ever thought
that servants were such slaves up there, I’d have cut her legs off
before she should have left Usk. My pretty Nell! If she goes and
marries away from me, where, perhaps, I may never have a glimpse of
her, or her little ones, it would drive me crazy.’

‘Come now, mistress!’ exclaimed the farmer in his old-fashioned way,
‘you must just put off your fit of the mopes for a bit, for here are
all your guests coming down the dell in their wedding bravery. Here’s
Hetty, blooming like a rose, and trying to look as if nobody had ever
been married in the world before her. How are you, my little bride,
and how are you, William, my lad? Mind the step, Mrs Owen, ma’am, for
it’s broken at the edge. (You mind me to have that set right, Mary!)
Well, farmer, you look famous, and so does Hugh here. I went to hear
you spouting last Sunday night, lad, and you have the gift of the gab
and no mistake. You made my wife, here, cry. You hit so neatly on her
favourite sins.’

‘Oh, no, Hugh, you won’t believe that, I hope,’ cried Mrs Llewellyn,
blushing like one of her daughters. ‘Father’s only chaffing you. It was
looking at you and thinking of my Nell that made me cry. The sight of
you brings back the time so plain, when you and she used to play and
quarrel all day long. You were main sweet on her then, and used to call
her your little wife. Ay, but how glad I should be if she had stayed at
home like my Hetty and married in Usk. My heart is very sore sometimes,
when I think of her so far away and I not near her, in sickness or
trouble. Sometimes I fancy I’ll never set eyes on her again.’

‘Oh, mother, you mustn’t say that,’ interposed Hetty, ‘for Nell
promised Will and me that as soon as ever she got a holiday she should
come back to see us all at Usk. But Lord Ilfracombe has gone abroad
and left her in charge of everything, so she can’t possibly leave the
house just yet.’

‘In charge of everything? Doesn’t that seem strange?’ said the mother,
with a proud smile, ‘My careless Nell! Lord Ilfracombe must think a
deal of her to trust her like that.’

‘Oh, he _does_ think a deal of her, mother. Anyone could see that. He
must give her heaps and heaps of money. You should have seen how she
was dressed. Oh, lovely! And her hair was done just like a lady’s,
and when we had tea with her, the footman waited on us as if we had
been the owners of the house, and he brought the tea up on a beautiful
silver tray and we sat in the best room, and it was like failyland,
wasn’t it, Will?’

‘I hope Nell did not do anything she ought not,’ remarked the prudent
mother. ‘I hope she won’t get into a scrape for this.’

‘Just what I said,’ laughed Hetty; ‘but Nell said Lord Ilfracombe is so
good-natured that if he came back, sudden-like, he’d only smile and
say,--“That’s right, go on and enjoy yourselves.” And a gentleman who
came and spoke to us when we were at the play, and sent us the most
beautiful ices, talked as if Lord Ilfracombe thought all the world of
our Nell; didn’t he, Will?’

‘Ay, that’s so,’ acquiesced Will.

The farmer and his wife, all unconscious of wrong, rather bridled at
this information, but Hugh Owen looked grave and his dark eyes seemed
to question eagerly for more. This last was rather a remarkable young
man, both outwardly and inwardly. From a child he had been a student,
and now might almost have been termed a scholar, though a self-taught
one. His face was so earnest and introspective in its expression, that
it made one forget that his features were not strictly handsome. His
sallow complexion, dark grey eyes, large nose, and thin-lipped mouth,
were far less attractive than his younger brother’s fair skin and Saxon
characteristics, but no one looked twice at William Owen, while few
could forget Hugh. His tall, gaunt frame, nervous hands, and straight
hair, all told the same tale, of a man who had used his intellect more
than his muscle, and cared for his brains before his body. From a child
Hugh Owen had felt the power within him, and had delighted to mount a
rostrum of his own erection, and hold forth to his playmates on any
subject which occupied his mind at the moment. As he grew into a lad,
he scorned farm work and only wanted to be left alone with his books
and studies, until his father, not knowing what to make of him, and
fearing he was ‘daft,’ consulted the minister about him. This minister
was a Wesleyan, an earnest, devout man, though rather unlearned, who
saw in young Owen’s proclivities only a ‘call’ to the ministry, and
persuaded his proud parents to send him to school at Newport, whence,
after several years of study, he returned to Usk and was elected to
take part in the services of the dissenting chapel. But, added to his
ministerial duties, Hugh Owen had taken to preaching at the corners
of the bye-roads and on the common, or wherever he could collect an
audience or obtain a hearing. Some people said he was mad, others, that
he was a saint. His parents and friends thought the latter, but he
was only a young enthusiast, whose whole heart and soul and mind were
filled with one idea, with which he panted to imbue the whole world. As
Hetty chattered about Nell, and what she had done and said in London,
Hugh’s eyes became strained and anxious, and his attention was wholly

‘I never heard before,’ he said presently, ‘of maid-servants drinking
their tea off silver trays and sitting in the best rooms.’

‘That’s only because you don’t know anything of London life,’ cried
Hetty, tossing her little head. ‘Nell says it’s quite different from
the country, and anyone can see so for themselves. Why, the gentleman
who met us at the play (I forget his name) spoke to our Nell just as
if she was a lady, and took off his hat when we drove away in the cab,
as if we were duchesses. Oh, it was lovely; I wish we lived in London

‘You’ve had quite enough of town life for awhile, my lass,’ observed
her father. ‘Your head would be turned with much more. You’ll be
expecting mother to give you your tea on a silver tray next.’

‘Oh, never mind the tray!’ exclaimed Mrs Llewellyn impatiently. ‘If
it had been of gold, it couldn’t have been too good for our Nell. But
tell me how she looked, Hetty. Is she quite well and bonny? Does she
seem happy in this grand place? Does she have plenty to eat, or did you
see any signs of fretting after the old home in my girl? for if so,
I’ll have her back, ay, if she was housekeeper to twenty lords, or the
Prince of Wales himself; God bless him.’

‘Oh, no, mother, don’t you worry. Nell is as happy as happy can be. I’m
sure of that. Of course she’d like to come home for a bit. I could see
the tears in her eyes when she spoke of you and father--’

‘God bless my lass,’ cried her mother, interrupting her. ‘When you say
that, I feel as if I couldn’t rest another night without she came home.
What a pretty thing she was at sixteen--you remember her, Hugh, with
her bright hair streaming down her back, and her eyes dancing with
fun and mischief. The prettiest lass in all Usk, or for miles around.
Everybody said so. Didn’t they, Hugh?’

‘Yes, Mrs Llewellyn, you are right; they did so,’ replied Hugh.

‘A bit wild and wilful-like, but no harm in her,’ continued the mother.
‘And might have married well if she had stayed here. Well, I miss
her sorely, and always have done so, and shall all the more now that
Hetty’s gone and got married. I’ve never seen the girl that was a patch
on my Nell.’

‘Now, mother, suppose you stop your bemoanings and pass round the
griddle cakes,’ interposed the farmer. ‘I don’t call it much of a
compliment to William and Hetty here, for you to amuse us with praises
of our Nell. You heard what Het says, that she means to come to Usk
the first holiday she gets, and what do you want more? She might have
married and gone out to America, and then you’d have had to do without
her altogether.’

‘God forbid,’ said his wife, as she busied herself with looking after
her guests.

They were soon started on another subject. Farmer Owen had had an
uncommonly heavy crop of hay that year, and as most husbandmen had
lost theirs through the drought, his good luck, and the way he had
secured it, formed a grand subject of conversation between him and Mr
Llewellyn. The little bride had not half exhausted her tales of the
wonders she had been introduced to in London, and they were all in
full chatter, asking questions and answering them, when Hugh Owen said

‘Who’s this coming down the glen?’

All eyes were instantly directed towards the steep hill which led to
the farmhouse, and down which a tall female figure was walking with
rather slow footsteps.

‘It’s a lady,’ quoth Mrs Llewellyn, wonderingly. ‘Whoever can she be?
It’s a stranger. I’ve never seen her in Usk before.’

The woman was dressed very plainly, but she seemed to wear her clothes
differently from the common herd. She raised her head every now and
then, expectantly, and yet timidly, and during one of these movements
Hetty caught sight of her face.

‘Mother,’ she screamed, as she jumped up from her seat, ‘it’s our Nell!’

‘_Nell!_’ echoed her mother. ‘Never!’

But Hetty had already left the house, and, meeting the advancing
figure, had thrown both her arms around it.

‘Nell! Nell!’ she cried. ‘Oh, Nell, we were just talking of you. What
joy it is to welcome you home.’

She seized her two hands and dragged her along till she stood in the
midst of the astonished group.

‘Mother, can’t you see? It is our Nell. She has got her holiday at
last, and has come to spend it with us.’

‘Yes, at last!’ exclaimed Nell, as she fell into her mother’s opened
arms. ‘Mother, I’ve come home, and I never mean to leave you again.’

At first, in their delight and surprise at her unexpected appearance,
they could do nothing but kiss her and gaze at her; but when their
excitement had somewhat subsided, all their anxiety was to hear why
Nell had not given them warning of her return, and when she was going
back to her situation again.

‘Going back,’ she echoed, with a shrill laugh; ‘I’m _never_ going back
at all, mother. I’m going to live with you now, and help you as Hetty
used to do. I shall never go back unless you tell me you don’t want me.’

Her mother’s only answer was to cry over her, and say how much she
had longed for her return, but Hetty was gazing at her sister with
amazement. What had happened to her since they had parted in London?
Nell was as pale as death; she almost looked thinner than when she had
seen her last; her eyes were abnormally large, and there were dark
lines under them. Above all, there was a harsh shrillness in her voice
which she had not noticed before.

‘My darling lass,’ said Mrs Llewellyn, ‘if you wait till your father
and I bid you go, you’ll stay here for ever. But have you been ailing,
Nell? Hetty, here, said you were looking so well. But you don’t look so
to me. London air can’t agree with you to leave your cheeks so white
and your lips so pale. Are you sure you are quite well, my lass? If
not, your mother will nurse you till you are. She hasn’t lost much of
her good looks, has she, Hugh?’

‘Who’s that?’ said Nell, turning round. ‘What, my old sweetheart?
How are you, Hugh? How are you Mrs Owen? I didn’t know mother had a
tea-party, you see, or I would have come to-morrow instead of to-day.’

Then she suddenly burst into a wild fit of laughter.

‘Isn’t it funny to be sitting amongst you all again? I feel as if I
had never left home. Ah, it’s a long time ago, isn’t it, mother? a
long, weary while. But it’s over now, thank God, over for good and
all. I mean to stay at dear Panty-cuckoo Farm for the rest of my life,
and look after the dairy and the baking and the washing, and let dear
mother sit down and rest. You’ll think I’ve forgotten all about it,
mother, but you’ll find you’re mistaken. In two or three days, I shall
have forgotten that I ever left Usk, and be as good a farm maid as

‘Oh, Nell, my girl, you know how glad I shall be to have your help, but
what made you think of coming home to give it me? I’m fairly puzzled
what put it in your mind. Hetty understood you weren’t likely to get
leave for a long time to come.’

‘What put it in my mind?’ repeated Nell, with a repetition of her
shrill laugh. ‘Why, Hetty to be sure. She drew such a pitiful picture
of mother, left without a daughter to help in her dairy work, that I
couldn’t resist the temptation to run home and give you all a surprise.
Aren’t you glad to see me, father? Your bonnie girl, as you used to
call me. I remember you were vexed enough when I decided to go out to
service. You threatened to lock me up on bread and water.’

‘Glad to have you back, lass? Ay, more glad than I can say. But I
confess you’ve taken us rather by surprise. What did your master say to
your leaving him in such a hurry? Wasn’t he a bit put out? Hetty said
he had left you in charge of the house.’

Nell flushed suddenly like a scarlet rose.

‘So he did, but he’s altered his plans, and isn’t coming home now for a
long time. And so, as a servant isn’t a slave, I’ve given him warning.
He told me in his last letter I could leave London when I liked, and I
liked to do so now--now, at once. I couldn’t stay. I wanted my mother.
I wanted Panty-cuckoo Farm. I wanted you all--and rest, rest!’

She uttered the last words almost like a sigh. As they escaped her lips
she turned and caught Hugh Owen’s eyes fixed on her. Nell threw back
her head defiantly, as though she dared him to guess at anything she
thought or felt.

‘Rest,’ said Mrs Llewellyn sympathisingly, ‘of course you want rest, my
poor child, and you shall have it here. They’ve worked you too hard in
London. I was afraid of it when I heard what Hetty had to tell me about
you. But you shall rest now, my bonnie lass, you shall rest now!’

                             CHAPTER VIII.

Farmer Owen was considered quite a proficient on the violin in Usk,
and as soon as the party, with the exception of Nell, had discussed
the good things provided for them, he drew his instrument from its
green baize case, and proceeded to play a plaintive ballad. His friends
listened with respectful attention, but the melancholy strain was too
much for Nell’s over-strung nerves.

‘Oh, give us something livelier, Mr Owen, do,’ she cried, jumping up
from her seat. ‘“Robin Adair” is enough to give one the blues! Let’s
have a dance instead. Here, Hetty, help me to wheel the table into the
corner, and we’ll stand up for a good old country reel. Did I tell you
that Lord Ilfracombe is married? We’ll dance in honour of the wedding.’

‘The earl _married_!’ exclaimed her sister, standing still in her
amazement. ‘Why, Nell, when did that happen? Wasn’t it very sudden? You
said nothing about it when we were in London.’

‘Oh, it seems he had been thinking of it for a long while, but
gentlemen don’t tell their secrets to their servants, you know. They
take the responsibility and trouble and expense, and all the servants
have to do is to smile and look happy and dance at the wedding. Come
along, Hugh,’ she continued, pulling that young man by the arm, ‘you
shall be my partner. Hetty and Will must open the ball, of course, but
we’ll show them how to dance at it. Up the middle and down again; hands
across and turn your partner; as we used in the days gone by. That’s
right, Mr Owen, give us “Yankee Doodle.” That’s the tune to make one’s
feet fly. Now, Hugh!’

She was dragging at his arm as hard as she could to make him rise from
his seat, and she looked so beautiful, with her flushed cheeks and
disordered hair, that he found it hard to resist her.

‘But Nell--Miss Llewellyn,’ he remonstrated shyly, ‘you forget--I
cannot--it would not be seemly for me in my character as minister to
dance. I have not done such a thing for years, and I shall never do it

Nell regarded him for a moment with grave surprise, and then, with a
hard laugh, flung his hand away from her.

‘You stupid! Do you really mean it? So much the worse for you. I shall
dance with my dad, then. _He_ won’t refuse me; will you, daddy? You’ll
have a fling with your girl in honour of her master’s wedding.’

And she pulled the old farmer into the middle of the room as she spoke,
whilst he, well pleased at her audacity and good spirits, allowed
himself to be turned and twisted at the will of his handsome daughter,
who flew up and down the dance as if she had never had a care or a
sorrow in her life. Hugh Owen sat by and watched her with troubled,
anxious eyes. He almost regretted at that moment that his chosen
vocation forbade his joining in the festivities before him. He would
have given a good deal to have had his arm round his old sweetheart’s
waist and danced hand in hand with her to the merry tune his father
played with so much spirit. Mrs Llewellyn, though still on hospitable
cares intent, and engaged at the sideboard with currant and orange wine
and queen cakes, was delighted to watch the antics of her daughters
as they beat time with their flying feet to the strains of “Yankee
Doodle,” but her pleasure was somewhat tempered by anxiety lest Nell
should fatigue herself too much after her long journey.

‘There, there, my lass,’ she remonstrated, as she heard her urging Mr
Owen to play them another country dance, ‘you mustn’t forget you have
come off a tiring journey, and haven’t eaten a morsel since you entered
the house. You ought to be in bed, my Nell, instead of cutting such
jinks. I shall have you ill to-morrow if you don’t take care.’

‘Ill? Tired?’ cried Nell. ‘Fiddle-de-dee, mother; no such thing. I
shall be up at cock-crow to see after the hens and chickens, or to have
a ride on Kitty. How’s the dear old mare, father?’

‘Old Kitty, my lass?’ replied Farmer Llewellyn. ‘Why, she’s been dead
the best part of a year. Surely your mother or Hetty told you that. You
must have forgotten it, Nell.’

A shade came over the young woman’s laughing face.

‘Old Kitty dead,’ she murmured in a subdued voice. ‘Dear old Kitty,
that I used to ride astride when I was in short frocks. Oh, I _am_
sorry. No one told me, I am sure. I couldn’t have forgotten it. I loved
old Kitty so well. She was part of home to me.’

‘Ah, my girl,’ said her father, ‘if the old mare is the only thing
you’ve forgotten in Usk you’ve no call to blame yourself. I’ve been
sometimes afraid that your grand ways and friends up in London might
make you too fine for Panty-cuckoo Farm, but it don’t seem so now.
They’ve made a lady of you, Nell; but not too fine a one to forget the
old folks at home. Thank God for that! You won’t look down on your
mother and sister because their ways of speaking are not so grand as
what you’ve been accustomed to hear, nor despise them and the old farm
if we can’t give you as many luxuries as you get in your fine place in

‘Despise them! Look down on them!’ echoed Nell. ‘Oh, dad, you don’t
know what you are talking of. It is London that I hate and despise
and look down upon. It is the people there who are false and cold and
cruel. I want to forget it all. I want to forget I ever went there. I
hate service. It is degrading and despicable, and oh! so lonely to be
far away from home and mother and you. When I heard Hetty speak of you
both I could stand it no longer. I was obliged to come straight back to
you all again.’

‘And now we’ve got you we sha’n’t let you go again in a hurry, Nell.
You must stay and be the comfort of our old age. But you had better
be handing round your wine and cakes, wife. It’s getting on for ten
o’clock, and our friends here have a matter of a couple of miles to
walk to Dale Farm. I’ll have the mare put in the cart in two minutes,
farmer, and drive you home myself, if you’ll only say the word.’

‘Not for us, sir,’ replied Owen. ‘My missus here likes a walk, and as
for the young ’uns it does them good. Come on, Hetty. You’ll be main
proud and happy now you’ve got your sister back again, and I expect we
shall have a job to keep you at Dale Farm. There’ll a be message or a
summat for Panty-cuckoo most days of the week _I_ know.’

Meanwhile Hugh Owen had drawn near to Nell Llewellyn.

‘I am glad to find you haven’t quite forgotten me,’ he said, as he held
her hand, ‘and I hope you will let me come sometimes and pay you a
visit at Panty-cuckoo Farm as I used to do.’

‘Why, surely. You are often here with Hetty and Will I suppose?’

‘Not often. My duties take up so much of my time. But sometimes I
have an hour to spare in the evening, and I shouldn’t like to let our
friendship drop now it has been renewed. Are you fond of reading?’

‘It depends on what I have to read. I’m not over fond of sermons, such
as you used to give me in the old days, Hugh.’

The young man coloured.

‘Used I to give you sermons? It must have been very presumptuous of me.
I will promise to give you no more--at least in private. But I have a
very fair library of books, and they are all at your service if you
should require them.’

‘Thank you. I will tell you if I should want something to amuse me, but
for the present I shall be too busy helping mother, and getting my hand
in for dairy and laundry work.’

‘You will never come back to that now. You have grown above it,’
replied the young man, gazing admiringly at her smooth, pallid
complexion and white hands.

‘What do you know about it?’ said Nell curtly. ‘Don’t bet against me,
Hugh, or you’ll lose your money. Good-night. Mother says you preach out
in the fields, and some day I’ll come with her to hear you, just for
old times’ sake. But if you are very prosy I shall walk straight home
again, so I give you fair warning.’

‘Only tell me when you’re coming, and I’ll not be prosy,’ cried Hugh

The rest of the party had put on their wraps by this time, and were
prepared to start. Hetty wound her arm around her sister’s waist, and
they walked together up the steep incline to the wide, white gate,
where the Dale Farm people joined forces and set out for home. Nell
stood in the moonlight, gazing after them till they had disappeared
round the turning of the road, and then retraced her footsteps. As she
found herself alone in the white moonlight, with only the solitude and
the silence, all the forced gaiety she had maintained throughout the
evening deserted her, and she staggered and caught at the slender trunk
of an apple tree to prevent herself from falling, ‘Oh, my God, my God,’
she prayed, ‘how shall I bear it?’

Her eyes were strained to the starry sky; her face looked ghastly
in the moonlight; her frame trembled as if she could not support
herself. She might have remained thus for an indefinite time had she
not been roused by the sound of her mother’s voice calling her from the
farm-house door.

‘Nell, my lass, where are you? Come in quick; there’s a dear. You will
catch a chill standing out there with nought on.’

She was hungering, poor mother, to take her stray lamb back to her
bosom, and have her all to herself. She had seen with concern that Nell
had neither eaten nor drank since she had returned home, and she feared
the effect of the excitement on her health.

At the sound of her appeal, Nell came slowly down the dell again, and
entered the sitting-room.

‘Now, my lass,’ said Mrs Llewellyn, ‘you must just sit down here on
the old settle, and eat and drink a bit. I’m afraid our fare seems
different from what you’ve been accustomed to in London; but you’ll
soon relish it again. London folk haven’t the appetites of country
people, so they’re obliged to coax their stomachs; but you’ll take this
junket, I’m sure, and a glass of wine, just to please your mother.’

And as she sat her on the settle, and pressed the dainties on her, Nell
felt constrained to eat them, though they tasted like leather in her

Now that the excitement was over, her white, strained looks and hollow
cheeks went to her mother’s heart.

‘Ay,’ she said complainingly, ‘but you are thin and pale, my lass. I
haven’t had time to see you rightly till now. Why, you’re shaking like
an aspen. Have you been ill, Nell, or is this the effects of London?’

‘No, indeed, I am not ill,’ returned Nell, with quivering lips, ‘only
rather tired after my journey, and maybe the excitement of coming to
my dear old home. I think I had better go to bed now. I have taken you
terribly by surprise; but I’m sure you’ll find a bed for me somewhere,

‘Find a bed for you, darling!’ said Mrs Llewellyn. ‘Why, your father
and I would turn out of our own sooner than you shouldn’t lie easy the
first night you come back to us. But your own room is ready for you,
Nell. No one has slept in it since you went away,--not even Hetty--and
Martha has been setting it to rights for you all the evening. Will you
come to it now, my dear, for you look ready to drop with fatigue?’

Nell was only too glad to accept the offer, and Mrs Llewellyn conducted
her upstairs, and undressed her, and put her to bed with all the
tenderness and solicitude she had shown in performing the same offices
when she was a little child.

Is there ever a time when a mother ceases to regard the creature
she has brought into the world as other than a child? He may be a
bearded man, the father of a family, or the hero of a nation--or she
may be a weary and harassed woman, full of care and anxieties; but
to their mothers they are always children, to be looked after, loved
and cared for. There is no position in which maternal love shines
more brightly than when the infant she has nourished at her breast is
returned upon her hands, a man or woman, perhaps in middle age, but
weak, ill, helpless, and requiring a mother’s care. She may mourn over
the necessity, but how she revels in having her baby back again, as
dependent on her as when he or she had not yet begun to walk! Who would
nurse him and watch him, and know neither fatigue or privation for his
sake as she can do? Happy those who have a mother to fly to when they
are ill or miserable!

Mrs Llewellyn smoothed out Nell’s luxuriant braids of hair, revelling
in their beauty, and put her own best night-dress on her, and laid
her between the snow-white sheets as if she had been four years old,
instead of four-and-twenty. But this latter necessity brought an
awkward question in its train. Where had Nell left her own things? Had
she brought them with her and deposited them at the railway station, or
were they to follow her from London?

At first the girl was silent. She did not know what to say. The
awkwardness of the situation had not struck her before. Her face
blanched still paler, and her mother saw she had introduced an
embarrassing subject. Nell had turned round on her pillow and hidden
her face from view.

‘Never mind thinking about it to-night, my dear,’ said Mrs Llewellyn
kindly; ‘you’re too tired. Try and go to sleep, Nell, and you can tell
me everything to-morrow.’

‘Yes,’ murmured Nell, with her face still hidden, ‘you shall hear all
about it to-morrow. I have no box with me, mother. I--I got into a
little scrape--debt, you know--and I had to part with my clothes. You
won’t be angry with me?’

‘Angry with you, my dear? Don’t get any foolish notions like that into
your head. If you sold your things to pay your debt, it was an honest
thing to do, and we’d be the last, father and I, to blame you for it.
And we’ve got enough money in the stocking to buy you more. So set your
mind at rest about that, my girl, and now go to sleep and wake bright

She kissed her daughter as she spoke, and went back to the parlour to
rejoin her husband. But the first words the farmer uttered fanned
the little breath of suspicion which she had entertained about Nell’s
sudden coming home into a flame.

‘Well, how is she?’ demanded Llewellyn, as his wife entered the parlour.

‘Oh, well enough, Griffith,’ she replied; ‘very tired, as you may have
seen, and a bit inclined to be hysterical, but that’ll all wear off by

‘I hope it may,’ said the farmer; ‘but I don’t quite understand why
she came home without giving us the least warning. It seems queer now,
don’t it? Here was the girl in a first-class place, drawing big wages,
as Hetty said she must from the lavish way in which she spent money
whilst they were in town, and without word or warning she chucks it all
up and rushes home to us.’

‘Well, father, you wouldn’t be the one to blame her for that, surely?’

‘Not I, if she’d done it in a decent way. Haven’t I asked her a dozen
times since she left us to come home if she felt inclined? But big
situations ain’t thrown up in that way, Mary. Servants have to give
a month’s notice before they leave. Has she left Lord Ilfracombe’s
service before he has got someone to fill her place? There’s something
I don’t understand about it all, and I wish Nell had come back in a
more regular manner. Where’s her boxes and things? Has she left them in
London, or brought them with her? And if so, why didn’t she bring them
on in Johnson’s fly, or ask me to send Bob with the cart to fetch them?’

At this query Mrs Llewellyn almost began to cry.

‘Oh, Griffith, my man, you mustn’t be hard on the lass, but she hasn’t
got anything with her. No box, nor nothing--only the clothes she stands
upright in. She has just told me so.’

‘What, from a situation like Lord Ilfracombe’s!’ exclaimed the farmer.
‘What has she done with them then? There’s some mystery about all this
that I don’t like, Mary, and I mean to get to the bottom of it.’

‘There’s no mystery, Griffith, only a misfortune. Nell has told
me all about it. I think she must have spent more than she could
afford--perhaps on her sister when she was in London--any way our Nell
got in debt, and sold her things to pay it. It was very unfortunate,
but it was honourable, you see. And she is but a girl after all.
We mustn’t judge her too hardly. She didn’t know how much she owed
perhaps, or she thought she’d make it up from her wages, and then this
marriage took place, and she left and found herself in a fix. It seems
very plain to me.’

‘But why should she leave when his lordship got married? He’ll want a
housekeeper just the same. And likely would have raised Nell’s wages.
It was the very time for her to stay on.’

‘Ah, well, father, she longed to see us all again. You heard the dear
lass say so, and you’d be the last to blame her for that, I’m sure.’

‘Of course,’ replied her husband, ‘no one is better pleased to have
the girl back than I am, but I wish it had been all straight and above
board, and with no mystery about it. For I’d lay my life you haven’t
got at the bottom of it yet, wife, nor ever will if the jade don’t mean
you to. You don’t know the tricks they learns them up in London. Well,
now she’s come back, she stays. I won’t have no more London, and no
more mysteries. She’s welcome back as the flowers in May, but I wish
she’d told the whole truth about it.’

                              CHAPTER IX.

Nell slept only by snatches through that night, and waked the next
morning with a heart of lead in her bosom. She had been so long
unused to country sights and sounds, that she opened her eyes with
the first gleam of sunshine that streamed through her window. The
air was so pure, and the surroundings so peaceful, that she could
hear the gardeners whetting their scythes in Sir Archibald Bowmant’s
grounds, and the milkers whistling, or talking to each other, as they
took their way to the cowsheds. A lark was executing his wonderful,
untaught trills far up somewhere in the blue heavens, and the farmyard
chorus had commenced to tune up--hens clucking, ducks quacking, pigs
grunting, and cows lowing, as they asked to be delivered of their
burden of milk. The honeysuckle and roses, which clambered outside
her window and tapped against the panes, were filling the morning air
with their fragrance; the dew-laden grass sent forth a sweet, faint
odour; the smell of ripening fruit and ripened vegetables permeated
the air. These were the things of which Nell had dreamed in her town
life with intense longing; which she had sickened to see and hear
again; the re-enjoyment of which, she had believed would prove the
panacea for every pain, the cure for every trouble. And now they were
all before her in their fullest beauty, and she turned her face from
them and hid it on her pillows. The innocent sights and sounds made her
tremble and turn faint with despair. They were no longer for her; she
had outgrown them. The simple tastes of her childhood mocked her as
she lay there--a deceiver, a pretender, an acting lie in her father’s
household. Nell had kept back the truth for years, but she had never
perverted it before--stooped to falsehoods to hide her shame, deceived
her father and her mother, and come back to take her place amongst
them as a pure woman, when she knew herself to be no longer pure. The
very things which she had believed would be her balm had proved her
bane. The very daisies and buttercups rose up in judgment against her,
until she felt herself unworthy even to pluck the flowers of the field.
These thoughts so depressed her, that she rose in a melancholy mood,
that quite precluded her keeping up the farce of gaiety which she had
played the night before. She appeared at the breakfast-table so pale
and heavy-eyed and languid, that her father gazed at her with surprise,
and her mother, in pity for her looks, tried to divert her husband’s
attention from them as much as possible by talking of Hetty and their
acquaintances in Usk. The conversation came round in time to their
landlord, Sir Archibald Bowmant.

‘Are the family at home, mother?’ asked Nell. ‘I could hear the men
mowing the lawn distinctly from my window this morning, and I fancied
I could smell the scent from those huge mounds of heliotrope they
used to have in front of the dining-room windows. I have never seen
heliotrope grow in such profusion anywhere else.’

‘No, my girl, there’s nobody there, nor likely to be till the summer is
well over. Sir Archibald is our landlord, and a liberal one, so we’ve
no call to say anything against him, and perhaps it’s no business of
ours, but he is a very different gentleman since he married again. The
first Lady Bowmant was a good woman, and though I suppose Sir Archibald
was always inclined to be wild, she kept him straight as you may say.
But since his second marriage, well, Usk Hall is not the same place.’

‘How is it altered?’ said Nell, trying to take a languid interest in
her mother’s conversation.

‘Oh, in everything, my dear. In _my_ lady’s time (I always call her
_my_ lady, you know, Nell, on account of my having been her maid
before her marriage) the family used to go to church regularly every
Sunday; he and she in their carriage, and as many servants as could
be spared following them up the aisle. But now their pew’s empty from
week’s end to week’s end. Of course, if the master and mistress don’t
attend church, the servants can’t be expected to do so. And I doubt if
they’d have the time, for they seem to be kept working more on Sundays
than on any other day in the week.’

‘How is that, mother?’

‘They keep such a heap of company, my dear, and when they’re not
tearing over the country on horseback, they’re playing cards all day.
James Powell, the under footman, says it’s something awful--like hell
opened, was his words. They begin the first thing after breakfast, and
then it’s gambling and swearing, and brandies and sodas, till night.
My lady seems to think nothing of it. She has a lot of brothers, and I
suppose she was brought up amongst it all. She drives a tandem, and
has nearly killed several people by her fast driving--she _did_ run
over Betsy Rigden’s little girl one day; but it wasn’t much hurt, and
Sir Archibald sent Betsy a ten-pound note, so nothing more was said
about it; but, to my mind, it isn’t decent that just as sober people
are on their way to church, my lady should come tearing down the road
in her tandem, with some young gentleman by her side, and both laughing
so loud you might hear them half a mile off. Ah, it’s a very different
house to what it used to be.’

‘But they’re not at home now, you say.’

‘No, my lass, nor won’t be till October or thereabouts, and then they
will keep it up till it’s time to go back to London, or off to some of
those foreign places Sir Archibald is so fond of, and where, I hear,
they do nothing but gamble. It’s a dreadful habit for them to have got
into. I never thought at one time that I should have lived to see Sir
Archibald the worse for liquor, but I’m sorry to say I have, more than
once. However, as I said before, he’s been a good landlord to father
there, so we’re the last as should speak against him. He fills my two
rooms every autumn, and far into spring; and if I had six I could let
them to him. Last year he came to ask me to let him have the whole
farmhouse, and find beds for ourselves elsewhere, and he would have
made it worth our while to, but I told him it couldn’t be. I couldn’t
sleep away from my dairy and bakehouse; nothing would go right if I
wasn’t on the spot.’

‘Do you go to church still, mother, or to chapel?’ asked her daughter.

‘Why, to church, Nell, of course. What makes you think we should change
our religion? You go to church too, I hope?’

Nell waived the question.

‘Only because of Hugh Owen,’ she said. ‘You spoke so well of his
preaching, that I thought you might have gone over to the Dissenters.’

‘No, no, my lass. No going over for us. Father and I were born and
bred church people, and we’ll be buried as such, eh, father?’

‘Why, certainly,’ replied the farmer. ‘I never hold with chopping and
changing. Live as you’ve been bred. That’s my motto.’

‘Of course the Owens have always been Dissenters,’ continued Mrs
Llewellyn, ‘so I would never say anything against Hetty going to chapel
with her husband, for where he goes it’s her duty to follow; but we
only went to hear Hugh preach for friendship’s sake. But there, it was
beautiful and no mistake. The words seemed to come flowing out of his
mouth like milk and honey. They say as Mr Johnson, the curate, is quite
jealous of the way that Hugh draws his congregation away to chapel. You
must come with me and hear him one evening, Nell. It’s mostly Wednesday
evenings that he takes the open-air service in Mr Tasker’s field. He
stands on a high bench, and the people crowd round to hear him. He
seems to speak so much from his heart. I’m sure if there was one woman
crying, last Wednesday, there was a dozen.’

‘Including Mrs Llewellyn,’ remarked the farmer, as he rose from table,
and shook the crumbs from his coat.

‘Well, I don’t deny it, and I’m not ashamed of it,’ replied his wife,
‘Nell will cry too, maybe, when she hears her old sweetheart talk. It’s
not much of a match for Hetty, Nell--not such a match as I hope to see
_you_ make some day, my girl--but they’re good people, the Owens, and
she’s safe under their care.’

‘And what do you want more?’ demanded the farmer. ‘It’s far better than
if she’d married some half-and-half fellow, who’d have brought her down
to poverty, or worse. All I want for my girls is respectable husbands,
men as will stick to them and work for them, not fashionable popinjays
that would give ’em fine clothes and fine words for awhile, and then
maybe desert ’em for another woman. You had better make a lot of Will
Owen, wife, for you won’t get another son-in-law as good as he in a

With which Mr Llewellyn took his thick, crabthorn walking-stick, and
went on his way.

‘Lor’,’ said his wife, as he disappeared, ‘the way father do stick up
for the Owens is wonderful. Not that I’ve a word to say against them,
but I should have looked higher for Hetty myself. William is a good
lad, but not more than a labourer on his father’s farm, and John Nelson
at the post-office proposed twice for her, but she wouldn’t look at
him, though he makes three hundred a year in hard cash. But I won’t
hear of any farm-hand for you, Nell. You’ve got the looks to make a
good marriage, my girl, and I hope you’ll make it. You’re rather peaky
now, and your eyes are sunken and dark underneath. I shouldn’t wonder
if your liver wasn’t out of order, but country fare and air will soon
set you right again, and then there won’t be a prettier girl for miles
round. It was time you came back to us, for you’d have lost all your
good looks if you’d remained in London much longer.’

Nell had listened to this lengthy discourse almost in silence. She had
been thinking all the time, ‘Oh, if they knew--if they only knew!’ She
had tried to pull herself together several times, and laugh and chat
as she had done the night before, but she had found it impossible. It
was as if some weight had been attached to all her mental powers and
dragged them down. She had a horrible feeling that if she spoke at
all she should blurt out the truth and tell them everything. So she
remained silent and miserable, wishing that she had never come back to
Usk, but been drowned in the deep bosom of the Thames.

‘I’m afraid you’ve got a bit of a headache still, my dear,’ remarked
her voluble mother, as she rose from the breakfast-table, ‘and so I
won’t ask you to come round the dairy with me this morning. You’d
rather rest on the sofa and read a book, I daresay?’

‘No, no,’ cried Nell, rousing herself, ‘I’d rather go where you go,
mother. I should go mad--I mean, I should feel my headache much more
sitting here by myself. Let me come and see all over the dear old house
with you. It will do me good--I must keep stirring, or I shall feel
things--my headache, so much worse for thinking of it.’

So she made a great effort, and followed her mother on her various
vocations, and made the dairymaids open their eyes to hear the
refinement of her speech and to see her graceful movements and the
daintiness with which her clothes were made and worn. Had they but
been able to read her mind they would have seen with amazement that
she shrunk from contact with them, because her dread secret was eating
into her very soul and making her feel unfit to associate with her
fellow-men. She had only realised the truth, and what her love for Lord
Ilfracombe had made her, by fits and starts in London, but here, in the
heart of God’s country, it was borne in upon her to such an extent that
she felt as if every innocent animal, and fresh, modest, wild blossom
must proclaim it to the world. So she went moodily about the farmhouse
all day, and her mother believed that she was ill, and ransacked her
brain to think of a remedy for her. In the evening, as they were all
sitting quietly together (for Mrs Llewellyn had been asking her husband
for some money to get Nell a new outfit, which had recalled to his mind
the impoverished condition in which his daughter had returned home),
who should walk in amongst them, to the general surprise, but Hugh
Owen. He looked rather conscious as he entered the room, but excused
his visit on the score of asking how Nell had borne her journey, and to
bring her a book which he thought she might like to read.

‘You need no excuses for coming to Panty-cuckoo Farm, my lad!’
exclaimed the farmer; ‘you’re always welcome here. What’s the day?
Tuesday? Ah, then to-morrow’s the grand field-night, which accounts for
your having the time to come over this evening.’

The young man blushed, and looked at Nell.

‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘to-morrow is my field night, as you call it,
farmer. I hope it may prove a harvest field.’

‘Now, just tell me how you do it, lad,’ said the old man. ‘Do you lie
awake of nights, and make up all you’re going to say, or do you wait
till the people are before you, and then just tell ’em what’s in your
mind? I’m curious to know, for your flow of words is wonderful, and I
can’t understand how any man can talk for two mortal hours as you did
last Wednesday, unless he’s stored it all up beforehand. It beats me
altogether. I never heard the like before.’

He had got Hugh astride his hobby, and the young man found his tongue
at once.

‘Oh, Mr Llewellyn, if you loved the people as I do, you would find it
quite as easy as talking to your family at home. I do think of what I
wish to say to them; sometimes the thought walks with me, as you might
say, all day long; but I seldom use the words I’ve been dreaming of. I
go to the spot with my mind full of some set speech, but when I see
the people who wait for me--all of them old neighbours or children whom
I’ve seen grow up amongst us--and most of them dear friends, I feel as
if my very soul went out to meet them, yearning to gather them all safe
into the fold. The words in which to warn and entreat them come too
quick then to my lips for utterance, and sometimes I’ve had to swallow
down my sobs before I could find a voice with which to speak. The
difficulty is _not_ to speak, Mr Llewellyn. The hard part is to keep
silence, when one sees so many whom one loves living for nothing but to
eat and to drink, and as if there were no God in the world.’

The farmer and his wife had been regarding Hugh Owen during this speech
with open-eyed amazement--Nell, with a scared look, half fear and half

‘Eh, lad,’ said Mr Llewellyn, ‘but it’s a rare gift, and you’ve got it,
there’s no doubt of that. But as for living to eat and drink, we must
do it, or we shouldn’t live at all, and we do it for others as well as
ourselves. What would become of my missus there, and Nell now for the
matter of that, if I didn’t see after the ploughing and reaping, and
wife after the dairy and the bakehouse. We’d all be dead of starvation
by the end of the year if I took to preaching in the fields like you,
instead of farming them.’

‘Indeed, yes, Mr Llewellyn, you quite mistake if you think I consider
it part of religion to neglect the work we have been given to do. But
we can live to God and do our duty at one and the same time. It seems
so difficult to me,’ continued the young enthusiast, as he flung his
hair off his brow, and lifted his dark eyes to Nell’s face, ‘to live in
the country, surrounded by God’s works, and _not_ remember Him. Why,
a countryside like Usk is a continual church-going. Every leafy tree
is a cathedral--the flowery meadows are altar carpets--each wild bird
singing in its thankfulness a chorister. God’s face is reflected in the
least of His works. How can we look at them and forget Him?’

‘Ay, ay, my lad,’ responded the farmer, as with a glance at his wife,
as much as to say, ‘he’s as mad as a March hare,’ he rose to quit the
house for the stables.

Hugh directed his attention more particularly to Nell.

‘I hope I haven’t worried you,’ he said sweetly. ‘I do not often
introduce these subjects into my ordinary conversation, but your father
drew me on before I was quite aware of it. I have brought you a book
to read, which cannot fail to interest you, Livingstone’s Travels in
Africa. Have you seen it yet?’

She took the volume listlessly, and answered ‘No.’

‘How I should love to travel amongst those wild tribes,’ continued
Hugh enthusiastically; ‘to make friends with them, and bring them to
a knowledge of the truth. The fauna and the flora, too, of strange
climates, how interesting they must be. To have undertaken such a
journey--to have left such a record behind one--would almost satisfy
the ambition of a lifetime.’

‘You should be a missionary,’ said Nell; ‘you are cut out for it.’

‘Do you really think so, that I could be worthy of so high a vocation?
I have sometimes thought of it, but always shrunk back from so great a

‘You seem fond of sacrifices,’ said Nell, half mockingly; ‘you were
talking of making them just now. You would have plenty then. You would
have to leave your parents and brother and sister, perhaps for ever;
and be eaten up by a lion or your interesting cannibals instead.’

‘Yes, yes, it would be hard,’ he answered, ignoring, or not perceiving
the joking spirit in which she treated the idea, ‘and harder now than
it has ever seemed before; but the prospect will be always before me,
to my life’s end, as something that may come to pass, if I find no
higher duties to keep me at home. But I am tiring you perhaps. You
have not yet recovered from your long journey, Nell--if I may call you
so--your eyes look weary, and your hands tremble. Are you sure you are
quite well?’

‘Yes, yes, perfectly so, only fatigued, as you surmise, and in need of
fresh air. All Londoners are obliged, as a rule, to leave town after
the hot season, you know, in order to recruit. I shall be all right
when I have spent a few weeks in Usk.’

‘And then I hope you will cease to speak or think of yourself as a
Londoner. I have never been there, but I have heard it is full of
temptations to frivolity and careless living, and that it is difficult
to keep close to God in London. Tell me something of your life there,
Nell. Had you liberty to go to church whenever you chose, and did you
hear any fine preachers, such as Dr Liddon and Dr Irons? Did you ever
go amongst the poor--the poor who live in alleys and back slums, or did
your employer disapprove of your visiting such?’

‘I know nothing--I mean, I can tell you nothing,’ cried Nell, suddenly
rising to her feet. ‘I am weary. I must go to my own room. It will take
me days to recover the fatigue I have gone through. Good-night. Don’t
think me rude, but I cannot talk to you of such things now.’

And with a curt nod Nell went off in search of her mother, leaving
him alone, and somewhat disconcerted at the abrupt ending of their
conversation. Mrs Llewellyn was almost as puzzled as Hugh Owen at her
daughter’s strange behaviour. She could not understand her. The next
day dragged itself disappointingly away. Nell continued in the same
passive, indifferent disposition, and when some neighbours, who had
heard of her return home, called at Panty-cuckoo Farm expressly to
welcome her, she locked herself into her bedroom, and refused even to
answer Mrs Llewellyn’s entreaties that she would make an effort to come
down and see them. Towards evening, however, she became feverishly
excitable again, and seemed impatient to find some vent for it.

‘What can we do, mother?’ she exclaimed as they rose from the
tea-table. ‘Isn’t this the night for Hugh Owen’s preaching? Let’s go
and hear him. It’ll make me scream with laughter to see old Hugh stuck
up as a minister.’

‘Ay, but, dearie, you mustn’t laugh when you get there, or there will
be a scandal, and poor Hugh will be main hurt. Besides, you had better
rest in the garden; the field’s more than a mile off, and I’m afraid
you’ll feel tired before you get there.’

‘Not a bit of it,’ cried the girl. ‘I’m just in the humour for walking
this evening, mother. I couldn’t remain in the garden; it’s too slow,
so, if you don’t want to hear Hugh, I’ll go by myself.’

‘Oh, no, you don’t do that,’ replied Mrs Llewellyn hastily. ‘I’m too
proud of getting my handsome daughter back again after so many years to
let her go tramping over Usk by herself the first day she is at home.
The Owens are sure to be there, and Hetty will be main glad to see us.
So put on your hat, Nell, and we’ll be off. I wish you’d something a
bit smarter to wear than that big black thing; however, I can’t deny
but it suits you all the same.’

So chattering, the old woman trotted off by her tall daughter’s side,
until they had reached Mr Tasker’s field. The open-air service had
commenced some time when they arrived there. The thirty or forty people
assembled had sung several hymns and listened to Hugh Owen’s earnest
prayer, and were now engrossed by his address. The young preacher stood
upon a bench, his long hair waving in the summer breeze; his eyes fixed
upon his small congregation, and his arms stretched out as though to
embrace them. He was not so enrapt, though, but that he perceived the
approach of Nell and her mother, who took up their stand on the outside
of the little group. His pale cheek glowed for a moment, and his heart
beat more rapidly, but he soon subdued these feelings and threw his
soul once more into the work he had appointed himself to do. He paused
for one instant to recover his equanimity, and then proceeded with his

‘What is the great evil of this world, my friends?’ he said. ‘What is
the greatest sin we sin against each other and ourselves? The sin
of deceit. We deceive each other in trading--even the smallest grain
of cheating, be it the quarter of a quarter of an ounce less in the
scales than it should be, is as great a robbery in God’s eyes; as
great a wrong to our neighbour; as great a wrong to ourselves, as if
it had been a hundredweight! We deceive each other in religion. We
go to church or chapel because others do, and others would think us
irreligious if we neglected to do so, but we do not tell our neighbours
this. We profess that we attend service for the love of God--because we
could not be happy without attending; because the duty is a comfort and
a delight to us. Can any duty so fulfilled bring any blessing in its
train? And many of us are living lies! This seems a hard judgment, but
look into your own hearts and say if it is not true! Which of you shows
yourself in your true light to the world? Your small meannesses--your
hasty tempers--your neglected duties--your backbitings--you put
them all aside in public, and let your neighbours think you good
mistresses; kind wives and husbands; liberal parents, and faithful
friends. But do you imagine you can deceive God--the God of truth,
who hates a lie--from whose heaven, we are told, all liars shall be
excluded? How many of you now before me could enter that heaven to-day?
How many are there who, if their real characters were known--if their
secret sins were laid bare--would be received with the love and respect
which you all accept as your due? Many a pure and beautiful outside
conceals a deceitful soul--many an apparently innocent face is the mask
for a guilty conscience; but you cannot deceive your God; He knows
every sin you have committed--every wrong thought you have entertained.
Is it not strange that what you are not afraid to let your God know
you have done, you would not have your neighbour find out for all the
world! But which is better, to be rejected of men to-day or of God in
the days to come?--to endure a little scorn and contumely now, in a
life which can only last at the best for a few years, or to be shut
out from God’s love for ever? Think, my dearest friends, of what His
love _for ever_ means! For ever and for ever and for ever!--without
sorrow, or sickness, or sin--wrapped in the arms of His boundless mercy
and protection for all time, and then compare it with the paltry gain
of keeping the good opinion of your neighbour here below--one, who
probably (if the truth were known) has sinned in like proportion with
yourself! If I could only make you realise what God’s love is like,
you would, in order to gain it, throw all earthly consideration to the
winds and think of Him and of Him only! He loves you as no mortal man
can ever love you, and He hates a liar. He has said He will have none
of them--that if men will not confess their sins before the world, He
will not number them with His elect in heaven; and this confessing

But here Hugh Owen’s discourse was interrupted by a shrill scream, as
Nell Llewellyn fell back in her mother’s arms in a fit of violent
hysterics. Of course everyone present (who had been longing for the
address to be concluded, that they might renew their acquaintance
with her) rushed forward simultaneously to offer their advice, or
assistance. But Nell shrunk from them all alike, as she tried to quell
the distressing cries that rose involuntarily from her, in her mother’s

‘Just stand aside a bit and let the poor lass have air,’ said Mrs
Llewellyn. ‘She’s so weak and faint after that nasty London, that the
walk’s been too much for her. I was afraid it might be, but she was so
bent on hearing Hugh Owen preach! There! Nell--there, my lass! try and
control yourself, do! Lean on me, and we’ll go slowly home again. I’m
main sorry we’ve interrupted your discourse, Hugh, but I hope you’ll go
on now all the same! And you must forgive poor Nell! It’s all because
she’s so weak and upset like.’

‘I’m sorry she came this evening,’ replied Hugh, who was the picture
of distress, ‘but let me take her, Mrs Llewellyn, I am stronger than
you are and Nell can lean as hard as she likes, on me!’

But Nell turned her head away, and at this juncture, one of the
neighbours, who lived close by, returned with a little chaise drawn by
a ragged pony, which he had been to fetch, and putting Nell and her
mother in it, he drove them home; and Mrs Llewellyn’s whole care was
then directed to getting her daughter into bed, where she trusted she
would sleep and recuperate her exhausted strength. But creeping up an
hour afterwards to see how she was going on, she found her so ill that
she sent for the village doctor, who pronounced her to be in a very
critical condition, and before another twelve hours were over her head,
Nell was raving in the delirium of a nervous fever.

                               CHAPTER X.

Lord and Lady Ilfracombe had a pleasant time, yachting in the
Mediterranean. The weather was perfect; their companions, Captain
Knyvett and Mr Castelton, whom they had invited to accompany them,
proved to be agreeable and entertaining; and the _Débutante_ was as
luxurious a little vessel as can well be imagined. Nora, who was the
only lady on board, fascinated the whole crew, gentlemen and sailors
alike. Without being in the least masculine, she was as energetic and
as much to the fore as any man aboard. She did not suffer from _mal de
mer_, and had no feminine fads, fancies, or fears. She never failed to
appear at the breakfast-table, or to sit up playing cards, or singing
songs to her banjo, till the most wakeful among them was ready to turn
in. She sat on deck in all weathers, even when they encountered a
sharp squall and a downpour of rain. Lady Ilfracombe said she preferred
the open air to the saloon cabin, and had her wicker chair lashed to
the mast, and sat there, enveloped in her husband’s rough great coat
and her own spicy little naval cap with a peaked brim, encouraging
the efforts of the sailors, and chatting with her friends, as if she
did not know the name of danger. She was always lively, interested,
and good-tempered, and a general favourite with everybody. And yet
the earl, although he admired and was proud of his wife, did not feel
so happy in her possession as he had hoped to do. Nora’s disposition
had not altered with marriage. What woman’s ever did? The prudence
or coldness which had induced her to refuse her lover, a kiss or an
embrace before marriage, extended in a great measure to her behaviour
to her husband. Ilfracombe, like many another man in the same position,
had imagined her coolness to be due to maidenly reserve, and thought
that it would all disappear with wifehood. The greatest mistake men
ever make. Of matrimony, it might be written, as the terms on which
we are supposed to enter heaven are written of in the Bible, ‘Let the
flirt be a flirt still, and the prude be a prude still.’ Marriage is
far more likely to cool the ardent, than to warm the cold. And the
Countess of Ilfracombe had proved the truth of it. She did not actually
repulse her bridegroom, but she only permitted his attentions--she
never returned them. The earl was more in love with her than ever he
had been, perhaps for this very reason, but he could not help wishing
sometimes, with a sigh of disappointment, that she would put her arms
round his neck of her own accord, and press her lips to his, with
some little show of passion. Perhaps at such moments a memory would
come to him, of a perfect mouth that had been used to cling to his
with unconcealed rapture, and a pair of white arms that would hold
him so closely, that he would unlock them by force, and tell their
owner jestingly, that she would squeeze him to death if she did not
take greater care. He had enjoyed these things until he had wearied
of them, according to the manner of men, and now-- He almost thought
sometimes that Nora was colder and more distant to him than she had
been before marriage, but that seemed an impossibility. She preserved
the proprieties in public with the greatest care, was always courteous,
and even respectful to him, before company--listened quietly whilst he
spoke, and deferred to his opinion in everything. But when they were
alone, she was just as courteous, that was all; and if he pressed his
attentions on her, was apt to show the least signs of peevishness, or
weariness, or sudden illness, which never exhibited itself on other
occasions. But men in the flush of a new love are satisfied with
very little, and Nora’s indifference only served to keep the flame
bright and burning. One day, as she was reclining in her wicker chair,
surrounded by her court, she gave vent to the wish that they had
brought her favourite sister, Susie, with them, as she was sure she
would have enjoyed herself so much.

‘I wish we had,’ acquiesced Ilfracombe heartily. ‘And I wish I had
brought my old chum, Jack Portland, with me too! I invited him to
come out with me on the _Débutante_, but that would have entailed his
missing the Derby, and I don’t believe Jack would enter heaven, if he
had the chance, if the Derby had yet to be run!’

‘Ay! _if_ he had the chance--which I much doubt he ever will have,’
laughed Captain Knyvett.

‘Jack--who?’ demanded Nora.

‘Jack Portland, my darling,’ replied her husband, ‘I must have
mentioned him to you, surely! He’s one of my greatest friends, we’ve
been a lot together, on the turf and elsewhere. Jack’s one of the most
reliable prophets I ever came across. He can always give a fellow the
straight tip, and he’s marvellously correct; isn’t he, Castelton?’

‘Oh, yes, very good, when he likes,’ acquiesced that gentleman.

‘Oh, come Castelton, that’s not fair,’ cried the earl; ‘old Jack’s
always ready to oblige a chum, and I never knew him to make a wrong un.
I know he’s won me pots of money, over and over again!’

‘And lost them for you too, Ilfracombe,’ replied Mr Castelton.

‘Are we likely to see much of this immaculate being on our return to
England?’ inquired the countess in a rather tart tone. ‘He does not
appear to me to be a very desirable acquaintance.’

‘Oh, my darling, you are quite mistaken,’ exclaimed Ilfracombe. ‘Poor
old Jack is the best-natured fellow in the world. I am sure you will
like him immensely. You mustn’t think that he obtrudes his sporting
proclivities on the drawing-room. No man knows better how to behave
in the company of ladies than Jack Portland--indeed, he has rather a
character for liking their society too much. See the mischief you have
done, Castelton! You have made my wife’s lip curl at the mere idea of
our sporting friend.’

‘Indeed, Mr Castelton has done nothing of the sort, Ilfracombe, for, as
it happens, I already know Mr Portland, though I had no idea he was one
of your friends.’

‘You know Jack Portland!’ cried the earl with unaffected surprise.
‘Where on earth did you meet him, and why have you not spoken of him
to me before?’

‘To answer your last question first, Ilfracombe, simply because the
subject was not sufficiently interesting to recall itself to my mind.
And as for where I met him, it was of course in Malta, where, as you
know, I have vegetated for the best part of my life!’

‘In Malta?’ echoed the earl; ‘why, of course Jack has been there. It
never occurred to me before, but it was his recommendation of the place
that took me there. So I may almost say that I owe the happiness of
meeting you to him. Let me see! How long was it ago? Two years?’

‘There or thereabouts,’ said Nora indifferently.

‘And did you not like him, Nora? Did you not think him a very charming

The countess shrugged her shoulders.

‘Am I to tell you the truth, or to bow to the fact that Mr Portland is
one of your greatest friends, Ilfracombe?’ she replied.

‘The truth, of course, darling. I can hardly expect you to see
everybody with the same eyes as myself; but I cannot imagine anybody,
and especially any woman, disliking old Jack.’

‘Then I’m the odd man out,’ said his wife, with a _moue_.

‘Really. What did he do to offend you? I’m sure he must have fallen in
love with you; but you have experienced that sort of thing too often to
make it a cause of offence.’

‘Is it necessary for a person to actually affront you in order to
create a dislike? I don’t think I saw enough of Mr Portland to do him
that honour. He stayed, if I remember rightly, with Captain and Mrs
Loveless, in the dockyard, and they brought him to see my mother. He
is a tall, broad-shouldered fellow, is he not, with blue eyes and
reddish hair? Well, he struck me as horsey decidedly; and, perhaps,
that was the reason I didn’t cotton to him. But, pray, don’t imagine,
Ilfracombe, that I am going to make myself disagreeable to any friend
of yours. It is only that I am indifferent to him. My welcome will be
just in proportion to your wishes.’

‘My dearest girl, I am sure of that, and when you know him better,
you will like him as much as I do. He’s rattling good fun; isn’t he,

‘Yes, according to our ideas, perhaps, Ilfracombe, but he might not
suit a lady as well. Jack has drank rather more than he ought to have
done of late years, and spoilt his beauty in consequence. Else he used
to be one of the handsomest fellows on the turf.’

‘Is it necessary to talk about Mr Portland any longer?’ demanded the
countess, with a yawn behind her hand. ‘Captain Knyvett, do fetch the
cards from the saloon, and let us have a game. We’ve been fooling all
the afternoon away. It is time we exercised our brains a little.’

‘What a strange thing it seems,’ said Ilfracombe afterwards to
Castelton, as they were smoking together on the poop, ‘that men
and women see with such different eyes! I should have thought Jack
Portland would have been an universal favourite with the beau sexe.
He’s a fine, manly, good-looking chap, with any amount of brains; and
yet Lady Ilfracombe, who really admires our sex more than her own--a
regular man’s woman she is, as any man, I think, would admit--can’t see
anything, apparently, to like in him. It is incredible to me! I shall
make a point of bringing them together as soon as we are settled at

‘Lady Ilfracombe is so thoroughly charming in every respect,’ replied
Castelton, with admirable tact, ‘that I should feel inclined to trust
her judgment before my own. It is not at all necessary that a man and
his wife should have the same friends, or so I take it. That would
entail a great deal of irksome duty on your part, paid to women whom,
perhaps, you did not like. Mr Jack Portland is bound to get his full
dues from so perfect a hostess as Lady Ilfracombe, without thrusting
his company continually on her. And between ourselves, old fellow, I
really think his conversation and ideas are more fit for the stables
than the drawing-room.’

‘No, no! I won’t have you say that,’ cried the loyal earl. ‘Jack’s
a gentleman, and no man can be more. My wife will learn to like him
for my sake. Castelton, old chap! why don’t you get married? It’s the
loveliest experience in the world. Don’t believe all the humbug people
talk on the subject. Only try it, and you’ll agree with me.’

‘Perhaps I might and perhaps I mightn’t, my boy,’ replied his
companion. ‘I expect matrimony depends a great deal on the woman, and
we can’t all expect to draw a prize. You’ve drawn the lucky number,
Ilfracombe, and I might get a blank; so rest satisfied with your _coup
de main_, and don’t persuade your friends to come a cropper in hopes
of clearing the thorny fence as you have. But I congratulate you, old
fellow. I never saw a man so spooney in all my life; and it must really
be a delicious sensation when the object is your own wife, and not that
of some other man. By the way, now we are quite alone, may I ask you
what has become of Miss Llewellyn?’

The earl looked round to see what his wife was doing before he replied,
in a low tone,--

‘Oh! that’s all right, old boy. I’ve pensioned her off handsomely, and
she has gone back to her friends.’

Castelton opened his eyes.

‘Really! I shouldn’t have thought she was that sort of woman.’

‘What do you mean by “that sort of woman”?’

‘No offence, old chappie, be sure of that. No one admired her more than
I did. I think she is, without exception, the most beautiful creature
I ever saw, and as good as she is beautiful. But I fancied she was too
much attached to you to accept a pension.’

‘Oh, as to that,’ said the earl, rather shamefacedly, ‘she must be
provided for. I wouldn’t hear of anything else. You see, Castelton, you
mustn’t think me a brute; but it was on the cards that sooner or later
I should marry. My uncles were always at me about the necessity of an
heir, and all that sort of thing; and I suppose it is the penalty of
inheriting a title, that one must think of carrying it on. You know I
was fond of the woman--very fond, at one time--so was she of me, but
it had gone on long enough. Sterndale has managed the business for me.
I don’t know that I should have had enough nerve to do it for myself.
But it’s all happily ended by this time, and I’m going to give up such
frivolities for the future!’

‘Of course, of course--naturally,’ said his friend.

But when Lord Ilfracombe met his wife in the sanctity of their
state-cabin, he alluded again to the subject of Jack Portland.

‘It’s the most extraordinary thing in the world to me, Nora,’ he
commenced, ‘that Jack has not told me that he met you in Malta. For I
have had two letters from him since our marriage.’

‘Most likely he did not remember my name,’ replied Nora; ‘I was hardly
out of the nursery then, remember!’

‘What! at eighteen? Nonsense! You are not a woman for a man to see and
forget. He has never said that he met your father. And that you should
have never spoken his name, beats me altogether.’

‘Why, you never mentioned him yourself till to-day,’ she retorted.
‘Considering he is such an intimate friend of yours, is that not more
wonderful than the other?’

‘Oh, I know such lots of men!’

‘So do I,’ said Nora.

She was sitting on the side of the bed as she spoke, nursing her knees
and looking her husband straight in the face.

‘You talk like a fool,’ she continued hotly. ‘As if a girl could
remember every man she has met! And you have not mentioned people much
nearer home to me. Who is Miss Llewellyn?’

The question took Ilfracombe so completely by surprise, that he did not
know what to say.

‘Miss Llewellyn!’ he stammered. ‘Who has ever said anything to you
about Miss Llewellyn?’

‘I heard you mention her name this evening to Mr Castelton.’

‘Indeed! what sharp ears you must have!’

‘Perhaps, but that is no answer to my question. Who is she?’

‘Well, if you must know, she is, or rather was, my housekeeper. An
interesting discovery, isn’t it?’

‘Cela depend! And is she to be our housekeeper now?’

‘Certainly not! That is to say, she has gone home--her mother was sick
and wanted her--’

The countess got off the bed, and going up to her husband, laid her
hand upon his mouth,--

‘There, there, that will do,’ she said quietly; ‘don’t soil your
soul any more on my account, for it is a matter of the most perfect
indifference to me who she was or why she went. There are plenty more
housekeepers to be procured, I suppose, in England. But don’t forget
what I told you in Malta about the pot that called the kettle black,
_voila tout_!’

She gave him a little kiss to sweeten the unpalatable dose as she
concluded, and the ordeal was over--only the earl would rather she
had shown a little jealousy on the subject instead. He did not know
how much or how little she had overheard of his conversation with
Castelton, and he did not like to ask, lest she might blurt out some
disagreeable truths in his face. But the circumstance made him think
a great deal more of Nell Llewellyn than he would otherwise have done
whilst on his wedding tour. He wondered more than once if it were
possible that Nell would try to make things unpleasant for him and
Nora, or if there were any chance of a rencontre between the two women.
Nora might overlook or ignore a _liaison_ of the sort if it were not
brought beneath her immediate notice, but he felt sure she would hold
her own--perhaps make a public scandal if it became a personal affront.
He had heard nothing from Mr Sterndale since a letter in which he had
assured him that his instructions regarding Miss Llewellyn should be
faithfully carried out, and he could not expect to hear more until he
met the solicitor in England. He tried as far as possible to dismiss
the idea from his mind for the rest of the voyage, but he became
restless and uneasy as they approached the termination of it; and when,
towards the end of October, he found himself safely installed with
his wife at Thistlemere, the first thing he did was to summon his old
friend to render up an account of his stewardship. With the solicitor
arrived Mr Portland. Lord Ilfracombe had not advised the countess of
his advent. He wanted to give them both a surprise. Perhaps also to
find out for himself how far Nora had told the truth concerning her
acquaintance with him. Ilfracombe had always been perfectly frank
whilst living with Nell Llewellyn. Under the influence of Nora he was
beginning to keep back things which, theretofore, he would have never
dreamed of concealing. So truly do our intimate companions rule, to a
great degree, our characters. We are told that we cannot touch pitch
without being defiled. So must we always derive good or evil from
those we associate with. But if Lord Ilfracombe fancied he was a match
for either his wife or Jack Portland, he was very much mistaken. At
any rate, neither he nor anyone could have discovered a domestic plot
against his peace from the perfectly natural way in which they met
each other, for if anything was apparent, it was an almost unnatural
indifference on both sides. The countess was in the drawing-room when
her husband entered with both men in his train.

‘Nora,’ he commenced, ‘I bring an old friend of yours to offer his
congratulations on your having obtained such a prize as myself.’

Nora glanced at the two gentlemen with affected surprise.

‘Mr Sterndale is an old friend of _yours_, I know, Ilfracombe,’ she
said, sweetly; ‘and, therefore, if he will accept me as such, I trust
he will consider me his friend also. But--’ turning to where Jack
Portland stood bowing lowly before her, ‘this gentleman--surely I have
met him before! Why, of course, it is the very Mr Portland of whom we
spoke once on board the _Débutante_. How are you, Mr Portland? Do you
remember me after all this time? Did we not meet at Captain Loveless’s
once at a ball? Were you not staying with them?’

‘I was, Lady Ilfracombe. Mrs Loveless is my sister. What a long time
ago it seems. How little I imagined, when dear old Ilfracombe here
wrote me he was engaged to a Miss Abinger, that it actually was _the_
Miss Abinger with whom I had had the honour of dancing! But there were
so many of you!’

‘Dear me, yes--dozens! I have three sisters married besides myself!
Perhaps it was Bella or Marion, after all, whom you danced with instead
of me. We are considered very much alike.’

‘If you will excuse me saying so, I do not think I could have made a
mistake. But you must have been very young at the time?’

‘I was eighteen; I am twenty now,’ laughed Nora in a nervous manner. ‘I
never conceal my age, and never mean to. It is such folly. If a woman
looks too young for it, all the better. If too old, it will only make a
bad matter worse to take off a few years. Don’t you agree with me, Mr

‘I agree with everything your ladyship says, even if it went against my
own judgment,’ replied the solicitor.

‘My goodness, you’re quite a courtier! I thought the law allowed men
no time for cultivating the smaller graces. If ever I want to get a
separation from Ilfracombe, Mr Sterndale, I shall come to you to make
terms for me.’

‘Oh, dear me!’ exclaimed the solicitor, laughing; ‘your ladyship must
not depend on me in such a case, really! I have been his lordship’s man
of business for years, and I am not sure if such an unmitigated piece
of treachery would not rank with high treason.’

‘Well, here is dinner, which appeals to us all alike,’ cried Lady
Ilfracombe, as she placed her hand on the arm of Mr Jack Portland,
‘so let us drop all discussion, except that of good things, until it
is over,’ and the earl and the solicitor followed her gaily to the
dining-room. But Ilfracombe was longing to have a private interview
with Mr Sterndale, and as soon as the meal was concluded, he asked the
pardon of the others if he detained the solicitor for half an hour.

‘You can send us word when coffee is ready, Nora,’ he said to his wife
as Mr Portland held the door open for her ladyship to pass through,
and then, with a nod to his host, went after her.

As soon as they were well out of hearing, Ilfracombe lent over the
table and said to Sterndale in a lowered voice,--

‘I don’t see why we need go to the library; I am not in a mood for
accounts or anything of that sort to-night. I only want to ask you
about Miss Llewellyn. How did she take the news of my marriage,
Sterndale, and is she well out of England? Where did she go to, and
was she satisfied with the provision I made for her? To tell you the
truth, the thought of her has been bothering me a good deal lately. The
countess is a noble, generous girl, and quite up to snuff, but she is
high-spirited, and if there were any chance of her meeting the other,
or hearing much about her, I wouldn’t answer for the consequences.’

‘You need not be in the least afraid of that, Lord Ilfracombe,’ replied
the solicitor.

‘Are you sure? Did she accept a sum down, or did you invest the money
for her, and if so, how and where? Is she out of England, and likely to
remain so? I daresay you will vote me an alarmist, Sterndale, but you
see, when all’s said and done, Nell was very fond of me, and women turn
into perfect devils sometimes when they are crossed in such matters.’

‘I repeat, my lord, that you have no cause to fear the least annoyance
from Miss Llewellyn.’

‘Thank God for that,’ said the earl, with a look of relief. ‘And now,
tell me all you can about it, Sterndale. Was she much upset at the idea
of my giving her up? Had you any difficulty about it? Or did she accept
the inevitable, and clear out quietly?’

Mr Sterndale prepared himself for a conference, previously to
commencing which he rose, and having seen that the dining-room door was
securely fastened, sat down again opposite to the earl.

‘I have rather a painful duty before me, my lord. Painful, that is
to say, in one sense, but, to my mind, providential in another. Your
lordship is now happily married, and, doubtless, would wish to cast
even the memory of the past behind you.’

‘It is my desire to do so, to forget it ever existed, if possible,’
said the young man eagerly; ‘but still I feel that will not be feasible
until I am assured that Miss Llewellyn is well provided for, and in a
fair way to be happy.’

‘Very praiseworthy and generous,’ murmured the solicitor, ‘but quite
unnecessary. In the first place, my lord, Miss Llewellyn blankly
refused to accept any settlement or provision at your hands. She took
the draft which I submitted for her approval and tore it across, and
flung the pieces in my face. Indeed, I may say, the young woman was
exceedingly rude to me, but I can afford to forgive it now.’

‘I am sorry to hear that, Sterndale, but I suppose your news upset
her. She was not accustomed to be rude in manners or speech to any of
my friends. But, doubtless, she apologised. She took the settlement on

‘Indeed, she did not, Lord Ilfracombe! She has never taken it.’

‘Then how is she living?’ asked the earl eagerly. ‘Where is she at

‘I must prepare your lordship for a slight shock,’ replied the
solicitor gravely, ‘for it was a shock to me. Miss Llewellyn is no

‘_No more!_ Do you mean me to understand that she is dead?’ exclaimed
Ilfracombe with a look of horror.

‘Exactly so, my lord. The unfortunate young woman is certainly dead.
She had an ungovernable temper, and it led her to a rash end. She threw
herself into the river.’

The earl’s eyes were almost starting out of his head.

‘She committed suicide, and for my sake?’ he exclaimed. ‘Oh, my God! my

He bent his head down on his hands, and the tears trickled through his
clasped hands.

‘Nell dead!’ he kept on murmuring, ‘Nell under the water! Oh, it is
impossible. I cannot believe it. My poor Nell. This news will wreck all
my happiness.’

‘Lord Ilfracombe,’ exclaimed Mr Sterndale, quickly, ‘I beg of you to
compose yourself. What if the servants, or her ladyship, were to enter
the room. This unfortunate affair is none of your doing. You have no
occasion to blame yourself. You did all, and more than most men would
have done to secure the welfare of the young person in question, and if
she choose to fling your kindness back in your face, the blame lies at
her own door.’

‘Are you _sure_ of it?’ said Ilfracombe presently, as he made a great
effort to control his feelings. ‘How did you hear of it? Did you
actually see and recognise her dead body?’

‘No, I cannot go so far as to say that, my lord, but I have every
circumstantial evidence of the fact. Miss Llewellyn disappeared from
Grosvenor Square, as Warrender can tell you, on the night of the 20th
of August, and has never been seen or heard of since. On that night a
woman threw herself into the Thames, whose description tallies with
hers. Here is the account of the affair published in the next morning’s
papers,’ handing the earl the paragraph he had cut from the _Standard_,
‘and on instituting every inquiry, I had no reason to doubt that the
young woman, who either threw herself or fell into the river, was
our unfortunate friend. With a view to ascertaining the truth more
accurately, I examined her belongings in Grosvenor Square, none of
which she had taken with her, another fact which points conclusively,
in my mind, to the idea of suicide, and amongst them, in her jewel
case, I found this scrap of paper, evidently addressed to your
lordship, and which I preserved with a view of delivering over to you
when you should question me as to the matter you left in my charge.’

Saying which, the solicitor placed the scrap of paper he had found with
Nell’s trinkets in the earl’s hands. Ilfracombe read the poor, pathetic
little message over and over again, ‘Good-bye, my only love. I cannot
live without you,’ and then without comment, having folded the paper
and placed it in his pocket-book, he rose trembling from the table and
staggered towards the door.

‘Sterndale!’ he ejaculated in a faint voice, ‘I cannot speak with you
about this now, some other time, perhaps, but for the present I must
be alone. Go to the countess, there’s a good fellow, and keep her from
following me. Say I have had a sudden summons to the stables, that
there is something wrong with one of the horses, and leave me to tell
my own story when I return. I won’t be long. Only give me a few minutes
in which to overcome this fearful shock. You know I was fond of her,
Sterndale, and I must feel her death a little. I never dreamt it would
come to this--that death would part us--never, never.’

And with his pocket handkerchief to his eyes, the earl rushed up to his
own room.

Meanwhile Mr Portland had been saying to the countess,--

‘By George, Nora, I do think you are the very cleverest woman I know.
I always did think so, you know, and now I’m sure of it. No one to see
you this afternoon would have imagined we had ever met before.’

‘Well, naturally, I didn’t intend them to think so. I determined on
that as soon as Ilfracombe told me you were a friend of his. What is
the good of telling everybody everything? It only leads to quarrels.
So as I am quite sure Ilfracombe has not told _me_ everything that he
has done before marriage, I determined he should have a _quid pro quo_.
But, Jack, you must keep the secret now for both our sakes. You will
let me have back my letters, won’t you?’

‘Of course I will, that is if you are so hard-hearted as to take my
only comfort from me. But where is the good of it? You don’t want to
read them over yourself, surely?’

‘Goose! as if I would. They are awful rubbish, from what I can
remember. Only it has become dangerous now, you know, and I should
never feel easy unless I had destroyed them.’

‘Won’t my destroying them do as well?’

‘No, because you men are so careless, and something might happen to you
during your steeplechases or hunting, and then they would be found, and
the news would be all over the shop. You _will_ give them back to me,
Jack, won’t you?’ in a pleading tone.

‘Did I ever refuse you anything, Nora? You shall have the letters, or
anything else you set your heart on, only continue to be nice to me as
you were in Malta.’

‘Then give them to me,’ she said in an earnest voice.

‘Why, you don’t imagine I carry them about with me in my waistcoat
pocket, do you? I take much more care of them that. They are at my
London diggings, safely locked away in my dispatch box.’

‘Oh, when shall you go back and fetch them?’ exclaimed the countess.

‘That is not very hospitable of you, Nora,’ said Mr Portland, ‘when I
have not yet spent a day at Thistlemere! No, no, you mustn’t be quite
so impatient as all that. You shall have the precious letters in good
time, though why you cannot leave them where they have been for the
last two years, beats me altogether.’

‘You know I asked for them back before you left Malta, and you wouldn’t
give them to me,’ said Lady Ilfracombe, ‘and now it is much more
important than it was then. I was a fool not to make my father insist
on their return, but I was so dreadfully afraid that he would read

‘Ah, that wouldn’t have done, would it?’ returned Mr Portland
carelessly. ‘You had better leave them with me, Nora. I’m their best
custodian. The perusal of them gives me pleasure, whilst on others it
might have a contrary effect, eh?’

‘No, no, you have promised to return them to me, and you must keep your
word,’ her ladyship was replying just as Mr Sterndale entered the room,
and said,--

‘Lord Ilfracombe sends his apologies to you, my lady, but one of the
horses requires his attention and he has strolled out to the stables,
but he desired me to tell you that he will not be absent more than a
few minutes.’

                             END OF VOL. I.


Transcriber’s Note:

This book was written in a period when many words had not become
standardized in their spelling. Words may have multiple spelling
variations or inconsistent hyphenation in the text. These have been
left unchanged. Jargon, dialect, obsolete and alternative spellings
were retained. Misspelled words were corrected.

Words and phrases in italics are surrounded by underscores, _like
this_. Those in bold are surrounded by equal signs, =like this=.
Obvious printing errors, such as backwards, upside down, or partially
printed letters and punctuation, were corrected. Final stops missing at
the end of sentences and abbreviations were added.



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