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his head, with both hands, against her breast.
'Dearest father,' said she, 'I have brought you some tea. Try and rouse yourself, papa, dear papa, for my sake. You love me too.'
The appeal was well chosen ; once more the tears came to his eyes, and he woke up as from a dream.
'You are a good girl, Maud,' he answered, with a vague, distracted air. I have my children left-I have my children left! But all the world cannot make up to me for what I have lost!'
She thought his mind was wandering, and tried to recall him to himself.
'We must bear our sorrow as best we may, papa,' she answered, very gently. We must help each other. You and I are alone now in the world.'
A contraction, as of some fresh pain, came over his livid face. He raised his head to speak, but stopping himself with an obvious effort, looked long and scrutinisingly in his daughter's face.
Maud Bruce was a very beautiful girl even now, in the extremity of her sorrow. She had been crying heartily, no wonder, but her delicate features were not swollen, nor her dark eyes dimmed. The silky hair shone smooth and trim, the muslin dress was not rumpled nor disarranged, and the white hands, with which she still caressed her father's sorrow-laden head, neither shook nor wavered in their office.
With her mother's beauty, Miss Bruce had inherited but little of her mother's character; on the contrary, her nature, like that of her father's ancestors rather than his own, was bold, firm, and self-reliant to an unusual degree. She was hard, and that is the only epithet properly to describe her-manner, voice, appearance, all were lady-like, feminine, and exceedingly attractive; but the self-possession she never seemed to lose, would have warned an experienced admirer, that beneath the white bosom beat a heart not to be reduced by stratagem, nor carried by assault; that he must not hope to see the beautiful dark eyes veil themselves in the dreamy soft
ness which so confesses all it means to hide; that the raven tresses clinging coquetishly to that faultless head were most unlikely to be severed as a tribute of affection for any one whose conquest would not be a question of pride and profit to their owner. Tenderness was the one quality Maud lacked, the one quality, which, like the zone of Venus, completed all her mother's attractions, with an indefinable and irresistible charm.
There is a wild German legend which describes how a certain woodman, a widower, gave shelter to a strangely fascinating dame, and falling in love with her, incontinently made his guest lawful mistress of hearth and home; how, notwithstanding his infatuated passion, and intense admiration for her beauty, there was yet in it a fierceness which chilled and repelled him, while he worshipped; how his children could never be brought to look in the fair face of their stepmother without crying aloud for fear; and how at last he discovered, to his horror and dismay, that he had wedded a fearful creature, half wolf, half woman, combining the seductions of the syren with the cruel voracity of the brute. There was something about Maud Bruce to remind one of that horrible myth, even now, now at her gentlest and softest, while she clung round a sorrowing father, by the death-bed of one, whom in their different ways, both had very dearly loved.
It was well that the young lady preserved her presence of mind, for Bruce seemed incapable of connected thought or action. He roused himself, indeed, at his daughter's call, but gazed stupidly about him, stammered in his speech, and faltered in his step when he crossed the room. The shock of grief had evidently overmastered his faculties -something, too, besides affliction, seemed to worry and distress himsomething of which he wished to unbosom himself, but that yet he could not make up his mind to reveal. Maud, whose quickness of perception was seldom at fault, did not fail to observe this, and reviewing the position with her accustomed
coolness, drew her father gently to the writing-table, and sat down.
'Papa,' said she, there is much to be done. We must exert ourselves, It will do us both good. Bargrave can be down by the middle of the day, to-morrow. Let me write for him at once.'
Bargrave and Co. were Mr. Bruce's solicitors, as they had been his great-uncle's: it was the same firm, indeed, that had apprized him of his inheritance at Calais twenty years ago. How he rejoiced in their intelligence then! What was the use of an inheritance now?
A weary lassitude had come over him; he seemed incapable of exertion, and shook his head in answer to Maud's appeal; but again some hidden motive stung him into action, and taking his scat at the writingtable, he seized a pen, only to let it slip helplessly through his fingers, while he looked in his daughter's face with a vacant stare.
Maud was equal to the occasion. Obviously something more than sorrow had reduced her father to this state. She sat down opposite, scribbled off a note hastily enough, but in the clear unwavering hand, affirmed by her correspondents to be so characteristic of the writer's disposition, and ringing the bell, desired it should be despatched on the instant. 'Let Thomas take the brougham with the ponies; the doctor is sure to be at home. He can bring him back at once.'
Then she looked at her father, and stopped the ladies'-maid who, tearful and hysterical, had answered the familiar summons, which but this morning was 'missis's bell.'
While they are putting to,' said she, calmly, 'I will write a telegraphic message and a letter. Tell him to send word when he is ready. I shall give him exactly ten minutes.'
Once more she glanced uneasily at Mr. Bruce; what she saw decided her. In half a dozen words she penned a concise message to her father's solicitor, desiring him to come himself or send a confidential person to Ecclesfield Manor, by the very first train, on urgent business; and wrote a letter as well to the same address, explaining her need of
immediate assistance, for Mr. Bargrave to receive the following morning, in case that gentleman should not obey her telegram in person, a contingency Miss Bruce considered highly probable.
The ten minutes conceded to Thomas had stretched to twenty before he was ready, for so strong is the force of habit amongst stablemen, that even in a case of life and death, horses cannot be allowed to start till their manes are straightened and their hoofs blacked. In the interval, Miss Bruce became more and more concerned to observe no signs of attention on her father's part-no inquiries as to her motives -apparently no consciousness of what she was doing. When the brougham was heard to roll away at a gallop, she came round and put her arm about his neck, where he sat in his chair at the writingtable.
'Papa, dear,' she said, 'I have told them to get your dressing-room ready. You are ill, very ill. I can see it. You must go to bed.'
He nodded, and smiled. Such a weary, silly smile, letting her lead him away like a little child. He would even have passed the bed where his wife lay without a look, but that his daughter stopped him at the door.
'Papa,' said she-and the girl deserved credit for the courage with which she kept her tears back'won't you kiss her before you go?'
It may be some instinct warned her that not in the body was he to look on the face he loved againthat those material lips were never more to touch the gentle brow which in a whole life-time he had not seen to frown-that their next greeting, freed from earthly anxieties, released from earthly troubles, must be exchanged, at no distant period, in heaven.
He obeyed unhesitatingly, imprinting a caress on his dead wife's forehead, with no kind of emotion, and so left the room, muttering vaguely certain indistinct and incoherent syllables, in which the words 'Nina' and Bargrave' were alone intelligible.
Maud saw her father to his room,
and consigned him to the hands of his valet, to be put to bed without delay. Then she went to the dining-room, and forced herself to eat a crust of bread, to drink a single glass of sherry. 'I shall need all my strength to-night,' thought the girl, 'to take care of poor papa, and arrange about the funeral, and such matters, as he cannot attend to-the funeral! Oh, mother, dear, kind mother! I wasn't half good enough to you while you were with us, and nowbut I won't cry I won't cry. There'll be time enough for all that by-and-by. The first thing to think of is about papa. He hasn't borne it well. Men have very little courage when they come to trial, and I fear I fear, there is something sadly wrong with him. Let me see. Three-quarters of an hour to get to Bragford-five minutes' stoppage at the turnpike, for that stupid man is sure to have gone to bed-five minutes more for Doctor Skilton to put on his great-coat, forty minutes for coming back, those ponies always go faster towards home. No, he can't be here under another hour. Another hour! It's a long time in a case like this. Suppose papa should have a paralytic stroke! And I haven't a notion what to do-the proper remedies, the best treatment. Women ought to know everything, and be ready for everything.
'Then there's the lawyer tomorrow. I don't suppose papa I will be able to see him. I must think of all the business-all the arrangements. He can't be here till ten o'clock at the earliest, even if he starts by the first train. I shall write my directions for him in the morning. Meantime, I'll go and sit with poor papa, fand see if I can't hush him off to sleep.'
But when Miss Bruce reached her father's room, she found him lying in an alarming state of which she had no experience. Something between sleeping and waking, yet without the repose of the one, the consciousness of the other. So she took her place by his pillow, and watched, listening anxiously for the brougham that was to bring the doctor.
At half-past eight in the morning Mr. Bargrave's oflice in Gray's Inn was still empty. It had been swept, indeed, and straightened,' as he called it, by a young gentleman whose duty it was to be in attendance at all hours from sunrise to sunset, when nobody else was in the way, and who fulfilled that duty by slipping out on such available occasions to join the youth of the quarter in sports of clamour, strength, and skill. Just now he was half a mile off in Holborn, running at full speed, shouting at the top of his voice, with no apparent object but that of exercising his own physical powers and the patience of the general public in his exertions. It was not, therefore, the step of this trusty guardian which fell sharp and quick on the stone stair outside the office, nor was it his hand, nor pass-key, that opened the door to admit Mr. Bargrave's nephew, assistant, and possible successor in the business, Tom Ryfe.
That gentleman entered with the air of a master, looked about him, detected the absence of his young subordinate as one who is disgusted rather than surprised, and lifted two envelopes lying unopened on the table with an oath. As usual.' he muttered, telegram and letter, same date-same place. Arrive together of course! Chances are, if there is any hurry you get the letter before the telegram. Halloa! here's a business. Bargrave's sure to be an hour late, and that young scamp not within a mile. If I had my way. Hang it! I will have my way. At all events I must manage this business my way, for it seems there's not a moment to spare, and nobody to help me. Dorothe-a!'
The dirtiest woman to be found, probably, at that hour in the whole of London, appeared from a lower story in answer to his summons. Pushing her hair off a grimy forehead with a grimier hand, she listened to his directions, staring vacantly, as is the manner of her
kind, but understanding them, nevertheless, and not incapable of remembering their purport: they were short and intelligible enough.
'Tell that young scamp he is to sleep in the office to-night. He mustn't leave it on any consideration while I'm away. I'm going into the country, and I'll break his head when I come back.'
Tom Ryfe then huddled the letter into his pocket for perusal at leisure, hailed a hansom, and in less than a quarter of an hour was in his uncle's breakfast room, bolting ham, muffins, and green tea, while his clothes were packed.
Mr. Bargrave, a bachelor, who liked his comforts and took care to have them, was reading the newspaper in a silk dressing-gown, and a pair of gold spectacles. He had finished breakfast, such a copious and leisurely repast as is consumed by one who dines at six, drinks a bottle of port every day at dessert, and never smoked a cigar in his life. No earthly consideration would hurry him for the next half-hour. He looked over the top of his newspaper with the placid benignity of a man who, considering digestion one of the most important functions of nature, values and encourages it accordingly.
'Sudden,' observed Mr. Bargrave, in answer to his nephew's communication. Something of a seizure, no doubt. Time is of importance; the young lady's telegram should have come to hand last night. Be so good as to make a note on the back. Three doctors, does she say? Bless me! They'll never let him get over it. Most unfortunate just now, on account of the child--of the young lady. You can take the necessary instructions. I will follow if required. It's twenty-three minutes' drive to the station. Better be off at once, Tom.'
So Tom took the hint, and was off. While he drives to the station we may as well give an account of Tom's position in the firm of Bargrave and Co.
Old Bargrave's sister had chosen to marry a certain Mr. Ryfe, of whom nobody knew more than that he could shoot pigeons, had been
concerned in one or two doubtful turf transactions, and played a good hand at whist. While he lived, though it was a mystery how he lived, he kept Mrs. Ryfe 'very comfortable,' to use Bargrave's expression. When he died he left her nothing but the boy Tom, a precocious urchin, inheriting some of his father's sporting propensities, with a certain slang smartness of tone and manner, acquired in those circles where horseflesh is affected as an inducement to speculation.
Mrs. Ryfe did not long survive her husband. She had married a scamp, and was, therefore, very fond of him, so before he had been dead a year, she was laid in the same grave. Then her brother took the boy Tom, and put him into his own business, making him begin by sweeping out the office, and so requiring him to rise grade by grade till he became confidential clerk and head manager of all matters connected with the firm.
At twenty-six years of age Tom Ryfe possessed as much experience as his principal, joined to a cunning and sharpness of intellect peculiarly his own. To take care of number one was doubtless the head clerk's ruling maxim; but while thus attending to his personal welfare, he never failed to affect a keen interest in the affairs of numbers two, three, four, and the rest. Tom Ryfe was a friendly fellow,' people declared; 'a deuced friendly fellow, and knew what he was abont, mind you, better than most people.'
'Every great man,' said the Emperor Nicholas, has a hook in his nose.' In the firmest characters, no doubt, there is a weakness by which they are to be led or driven; and Tom Ryfe, like other notabilities, was not without this crevice in his armour, this breach in his embattled wall. He had shrewdness, knowledge of the world, common sense, and yet the one great object of his efforts was to be admitted into a class of society far above his own, and to find there an ideal lady with whom to pass the rest of his days.
'I'll marry a top-sawyer,' he used to say, whenever his uncle broached the question of his settlement in