Billeder på siden

such a position as this; and she looked so beautiful-so beautiful!

The latter consideration was not without its effect on him, even in the exercise of his profession. 'Gentleman Jim,' as his mates affirmed in their nervous English, became a fool of the deepest crimson dye whenever a woman was concerned, and this woman was in his eyes as an angel of light.

Nevertheless, instinctively rather than of intention, he muttered hoarsely

'Drop it, miss, I warn you. One word out loud and I'll shoot, as sure as you stand there.'

'Shoot away!' she answered with perfect composure; 'you will save me the trouble of giving an alarm. They expect it, and are waiting for it every moment below stairs. Light those candles, and let us see what damage you have done before you return the plunder.'

A pair of wax-candles stood on the chimneypiece, and he obeyed mechanically, wondering at himself the while. His cunning, however, had not entirely deserted him, and he left his pistol lying on the table, ready to snatch it away if she tried to take possession. It was thus he gauged her confidence, and seeing she scarcely noticed the weapon, argued that powerful assistance must be near at hand to render this beautiful young lady so arbitrary and so unconcerned. His admiration burst out in spite of his discomfiture and critical position.

'Well, you are a cool one!' he exclaimed, in accents of mingled vexation and approval. A cool one and a stunner, I'm blessed if you ain't! No offence, but I never see your likes yet, not since I was born. Come, miss, let's cry quits. You pass me out o' this on the quiet. I dessay as I can make shift to get down without the ladder, an' I'll leave all these here gimcracks just as I found 'em. Now I've seen ye once, I'm blessed if I'd take so much as an ear-drop, unless it was in the way of a keepsake. Pass me out, miss, and I'll promise-no, I'm blowed if I think as I can promisenever to come here no more.' Undisguised admiration-the ad

miration always acceptable to a woman when accompanied with respect-shone in Gentleman Jim's dark eyes. He seemed under a spell, and while he acknowledged its strength, had no power, nay, had no wish, to resist its influence. When on such jobs as these it was his habit to observe an unusual sobriety. He was glad now to think of his adherence to that rule. Had he been drunk, he might, peradventure, have insulted this divinity. What had come over him? He felt almost pleased to know he was in her power, and yet she treated him like the dirt beneath her feet.

'No insolence, sir,' she said, in a commanding voice. 'Let me see, first of all, that every one of my trinkets is in its place. There, that bracelet would have brought you money; those diamonds would have been valuable if you could have got them clear off. You must have learnt your trade very badly to suppose that with such things in the house we keep no guard. Come, I am willing to believe that distress brought you to this. Listen. You are in my power, and I will show you mercy. If I give you five pounds now, on the spot, and let you go, will you promise to try and get your bread as an honest man?'

The tears came in his eyes. This woman, then, that looked so like an angel, was angel all through. Yet, touched as he felt in his better nature, the proletary instinct bade him try once more if her effort to get rid of him originated in pity or fear, and he muttered, 'Guineas! make it guineas, miss, and I'll say done.'

Not a shilling more, not a farthing,' she answered, moving her hand as if to put it on the bell-pull. 'It cannot matter to me,' she added, in a tone of the most complete indifference, but while I am about it I think I would rather be the making of an honest man than the destruction of a rogue.'

[ocr errors]

Her acting was perfect. She seemed so cold, so impassive, so completely mistress of the position, and all the time her heart was beating as the gambler's beats, albeit in winning vein, ere he lifts the box from off the imprisoned dice-as the

lion-tamer's beats while he spurns in its very den the monster that could crush him with a movement, and that yet he holds in check by an imaginary force, irresistible only so long as it is unresisted.

Such situations have a horrible fascination of their own. I have even known them prolonged to gratify a morbid thirst for excitement; but I think Miss Bruce was chiefly anxious to be released from her precarious position, and to get rid of her visitor as soon as she could. Even her resolute nerves were beginning to give way, and she knew her own powers well enough to mistrust a protracted trial of endurance. Feminine fortitude is so apt to break down all at once, and Miss Bruce, though a courageous specimen of her sex, was but a woman who had wrought herself up for a gallant effort, after all.

She was quite unprepared though for its results. Gentleman Jim snatched up his pistol, stowed it away in his breast-pocket, as if heartily ashamed of it, brought out from that receptacle a pearl necklace and a pair of coral ear-rings, dashed them down on the table with an imprecation, and looking ridiculously sheepish, thus delivered himself

'Five pounds, miss! Five devils! If ever I went for to ask five shillings of you, or five fardens, may the hands rot off at my wrists and the teeth drop out of my head. Strike me blind, now, this moment, in this here room, if I'd take so much as a pin's head that you valued, not if my life depended on it and there wasn't no other way of getting a morsel of bread! Look ye here, miss. No offence; I'm but a roughand-ready chap and you're a lady. I never come a-nigh one afore. Now I know what they mean when they talk of a real lady, and I see what it is puts such a spirit into them swells as lives with the likes of you. But a rough chap needn't be a blind chap. I come in here for to clean out your jewel-box, I tell ye fair. I don't think as I meant to have illtreated you, and now I know as I couldn't have done it, but I wanted them gimcracks just the same. If

so be as you'd like to see me shopped and lagged, you take and ring that there bell, and look if I go for to move a foot from this blessed spot. There! If so be as you bid me walk out free from that there winder, take and count these here now at once, and see there's not one missing and not one broke. Say the word, miss-which is it to be?'

The reaction was coming on fast. Maud dared not trust her voice, but she pointed to the window with a gesture in which she preserved an admirable imitation of confidence and command. Gentleman Jim threw up the sash, but paused ere he ventured his plunge into the darkness outside.

'Look ye here, miss,' he muttered in a hoarse whisper with one leg over the ledge, if ever you wants a chap to do you a turn, don't ye forget there's one inside this waistcoat as will take a leap in a halter any day to please ye. You drop a line to "Gentleman Jim" at the Sunflower, High Holborn. Oh! I can read, bless ye, and write and cipher too. What I says I sticks to. offence, miss. I wonder will I ever see you again?'


He darted back for an instant, much to Maud's dismay, snatched a knot of ribbon which had fallen from her dress on the carpet, and was gone.

She heard his leap on the gravel below, and his cautious footsteps receding towards the park. Then she passed her hands over her face and looked about her as one who wakes from a dream.

'It was an escape I suppose,' she said, 'and I ought to have been horribly frightened; yet I never seemed to lose the upper hand with him for a moment. How odd that even a man like that should be such a fool! No wiser and no cooler than Mr. Ryfe. What is it, I wonder; what is it, and how long will it last?'


A REVERSIONARY INTEREST. Although Dorothea could assume on occasions so bright an exterior as I have in a previous chapter en

deavoured to describe, her normal state was undoubtedly that which is best conveyed by the epithet 'grimy.' Old Mr. Bargrave, walking serenely into his office at eleven, and meeting this handmaiden on the stairs, used to wonder how so much dirt could accumulate on the human countenance, when irrigated, as Dorothea's red eyelids too surely testified, by daily tears. Yes, she had gone about her work of late with a heavy heart and a moody brow. Hers was at best a dull, dreary life, but in it there grew a noxious weed which she was pleased to cherish for a flower. Well, it was withering every day before her eyes, and all the tears she could shed were not enough to keep it alive. Ah! when the ship is going down under our very feet, I don't think it much matters what may be our rank and rating on board. Cook's mate in the galley is no less dismayed than the admiral in command. Dorothea's light, so to speak, was only a tallow-candle, yet to put it out was to leave the poor woman very desolate in the dark. So Mr. Bargrave ventured one morning to ask if she felt quite well, but the snappish manner in which his inquiries were met, as though they masked a load of hidden sarcasm and insult, caused the old gentleman to scuffle into his office with unusual activity, much disturbed and humiliated, while resolved never so to commit himself again.


Into that office we must take the liberty of following him, tenanted as it is only by himself and Tom Ryfe.

The latter, extremely well dressed, wears a posy of spring flowers at his buttonhole, and betrays in his whole bearing that he is under some extraneous influence of an unbusiness-like nature. Bargrave subsides into his leather chair with a grunt, shuffles his papers, dips a pen in the inkstand, and looks over his spectacles at his nephew.

'Waste of time, waste of capital, Tom, says he, with some irritation.. 'Mind, I washed my hands of it from the first. You've been at work now for some months; that's your look-out, and it's been kept apart

and separate from the general business-that's mine.'

'I've got Tangle's opinion here,' answered Tom; 'I won't ask you to look at it, uncle. He's dead against us. Just what you said six months back. There's no getting over that trust-deed, nor through it, nor round it, nor any way to the other side of it. I've done my d-dest, and we're not a bit better off than when we began.'

He spoke in a cheerful, almost an exulting tone, quite unlike a man worsted in a hard and protracted struggle.

'I'm sorry for the young lady,' observed Bargrave, but I never expected anything else. It's a fine estate and it must go to the male heir. She has but a small settlement, Tom, very inadequate to her position, as I told poor Mr. Bruce many a time. He used to say everything would be set right by his will, and now one of these girls is left penniless, and the other with a pittance, a mere pittance, brought up, as I make no doubt she was, to believe herself an heiress.'

'One of them!' exclaimed Tom. 'What do you mean?'

[ocr errors]

Why, that poor thing who was born a few weeks too soon,' answered Bargrave. 'She's totally unprovided for. With regard to Miss Bruce, there is a settlement. Two hundred a year, Tom, for life, nothing more. I told you so when you undertook the job. And now who's to pay your costs?'

'Not you, uncle,' answered Tom, flippantly, so don't distress yourself on that score.'

'I don't, indeed,' observed Bargrave, with emphasis. 'You've had your own time to work this, on the understanding, as you know, that it was to be worked at your own risk. I haven't interfered; it was no affair of mine. But your costs will be heavy, Tom, I can't help seeing that. Tangle's opinion don't come so cheap, you see, though it's word for word the same as mine. I would have let you have it for nothing, and anybody else for six and eightpence.'

'The costs will be heavy,' answered Tom, still radiant. 'I

should say "a Thou." wouldn't cover the amount. Of course, if we can't get them from the estate, they must come out of my pocket.'

Bargrave's eyebrows were raised. How the new school went ahead, he thought. Here was this nephew of his talking of a thousand pounds with an indifference verging on contempt. Well, that was Tom's lookout; nevertheless, on such a road it would be wise to establish a halting-place, and his tone betrayed more interest than common while he asked

'You won't take it into Chancery, Tom, will you?'

The younger man laid his forefinger to the side of his nose, winked thrice with considerable energy, lifted his hat from its peg, adjusted his collars in the glass, nodded to his uncle, muttering briefly,' Back in two hours,' and vanished.

Old Bargrave looked after him with a grim, approving smile. 'Boy or man,' said he, aloud, 'that chap always knew what he was about. Tom can be safely trusted to take care of Number One.'

He was wrong, though, on the present occasion. If Mr. Ryfe did indeed know what he was about, there could be no excuse for the enterprise on which he had embarked. He was selfish. He would not have denied his selfishness, and indeed rather prided himself on that quality; yet behold him now waging a contest in which a man wastes money, time, comfort, and self-respect, that he may wrest from real sorrow and discomfiture the shadow of a happiness which he cannot grasp when he has reached it. There is much wisdom in the opinion expressed by a certain fox concerning grapes hanging out of distance; but it is a wisdom seldom acquired till the limbs are too stiff to stretch for an effort till there is scarce a tooth left in the mumbling jaws to be set on edge.

Tom Ryfe had allowed his existenc to merge itself in another's. For months, as devotedly as such natures can worship, he had been worshipping his ideal in the person of Miss Bruce. I do not say that he was capable of that highest form

of adoration which seeks in the first place the unlimited sovereignty of its idol, and which, as being too good for them, women constantly undervalue; but I do say that he esteemed his fair client the most beautiful, the most attractive, and the most perfect of her sex, resolving that for him she was the only woman in the world, and that in defiance of everything, even her own inclinations, he would win her if he could.

In Holborn there is always a Hansom to be got at short notice. 'Grosvenor Crescent,' says Tom, shutting the half-doors with a bang, and shouting his orders through the little hole in the top. So to Grosvenor Crescent he is forwarded accordingly, at the utmost speed attainable by a pair of high wheels, a well-bred screw,' and a roughlooking driver with a flower in his mouth.

[ocr errors]

There are several peculiarities, all unreasonable, many ridiculous, attending the demeanour of a man in love. Not the least eccentric of these are his predatory instincts, his tendency to prowl, his preference for walking over other modes of conveyance, and his inclination to subterfuge of every kind as to his ultimate destination. Tom Ryfe was going to Belgrave Square; why should he direct his driver to set him down a quarter of a mile off? why overpay the man by a shilling? why wear down the soles of an exceedingly thin and elaborate pair of boots on the hot, hard pavement without compunction? Why? Because he was in love. This was also the reason, no doubt, that he turned red and white when he approached the square railings; that his nose seemed to swell, his mouth got dry, his hat felt too tight, and the rest of his attire too loose for the occasion; also that he affected an unusual interest in the numbers of the doors, as though meditating a ceremonious morning call, while all the time his heart was under the laburnums in the centre of the square gardens, at the feet of a haughty, handsome girl, dressed in half-mourning, with the prettiest black-laced parasol to be found on this side of the Rue Cas

tiglione, for love-of which, indeed, as the gift of Mr. Ryfe, it was a type -or money, which, not having been yet paid for, it could hardly be said to represent.

That heart of his gave a bound when he saw it in her hand as she sailed up the broad gravel-walk to let him in. He was almost happy, poor fellow, for almost a minute, not distressing himself to observe that the colour never deepened a shade on her proud, pale cheek; that the shapely hand, which fitted its passkey to the lock, was firm as a dentist's, and the clear, cold voice that greeted him far steadier than his


It is a choice of evils, after all, this favourite game of cross-purposes for two. To care more than the adversary entails worry and vexation; to care less makes a burthen of it, and a bore.

'Thank you so much for coming, Miss Bruce-Maud,' said Tom, passionately. You never fail, and yet I always dread, somehow, that I shall be disappointed.'

'I keep my word, Mr. Ryfe,' answered the young lady, with perfect self-possession; and I am quite as anxious as you can be, I assure you. I want so to know how we are getting on.'

He showed less discouragement than might have been expected. Perhaps he was used to this sang-froid, perhaps he rather liked it, believing it, in his ignorance, a distinctive mark of class; not knowing-how should he?-that, once excited, these thoroughbred ones are, of all races, the least amenable to restraint.

'I have bad news,' he said, tenderly. Miss Bruce, I hardly like to tell you that I fear we cannot make out case enough to come into court. I took the opinion of the first man we have. I am sorry to say he gives it against us. I am not selfish,' be added, with real emotion, and I am sorry, indeed, for your sake, dearest Miss Bruce.'

He meant to have called her 'Maud;' but the beautiful lips tightened, and the delicate eyebrows came down very straight and stern over the deep eyes in which he had learned to read his fate. He would

wait for a better opportunity, he thought, of using the dear, familar


She took small notice of his trouble.

'Has there been no mismanagement?' she asked, almost angrily; 'no papers lost? no foul play? Have you done your best?'

'I have, indeed,' he answered, meekly. After all, is it not for my own interest as much as yours? Are they not henceforth to be in common?'

She ignored the question altogether; she seemed to be thinking of something else. While they paced up and down a walk screened from the square windows by trees and shrubs already clothed in the tender, quivering foliage of spring, she kept silence for several seconds, looking straight before her with a sterner expression than he could yet remember to have seen on the face he adored. Presently she spoke in a hard, determined voice

'I am disappointed. Yes, Mr. Ryfe, I don't mind owning I am bitterly and grievously disappointed. There, I suppose it's not your fault, so you needn't look black about it; and I dare say you did the best you could afford at the price. Well, I don't want to hurt your feelings-your very best, then. And yet it seems very odd-you were so confident at first. Of course if the thing's really gone, and there's no chance left, it's folly to think about it. But what a future to lose-what a future to lose! Mr. Ryfe, I can't stay with Aunt Agatha -I can't and I won't! How she could ever find anybody to marry her! Mr. Ryfe, speak to me. What had I better do?"

Tom would have given a round sum of money at that moment to recall one of the many imaginary conversations held with Miss Bruce, in which he had exhausted poetry, sentiment, and forensic ardour for the successful pleading of his suit. Now he could find nothing better to say than that he had hoped she was comfortable with Mrs. Stanmore; and anybody who didn't make Miss Bruce comfortable must be brutal and wicked. But-butif it was really so-and she could be

« ForrigeFortsæt »