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stairs. It will do them more good than all your prevision, and all my experience. I will return in the morning, to inquire after madame and to renew my acquaintance with mademoiselle-I should say with "your charming mees." Monsieur, you are now father of a family-you should keep early hours. Goodnight then-till to-morrow.'
Bruce looked after him with a blessing on his lips, and a fervent thanksgiving in his heart to the Providence that had spared him his treasure. For the moment, I believe, he completely forgot that important personage with whom originated all their anxiety and discomfort. To men, indeed, there is so little individuality about a Baby, that, I fear it has to be weaned and vaccinated, and to go through many other processes, before it ceases to be a thing, and rather an inconvenient one. No; Bruce went to his own sitting-room, with his heart so full of his Nina, there was scarcely place for other considerations; therefore, instead of going to bed, he kicked off his wet boots, turned on a brilliant illumination of gas, and threw himself into an arm-chair-to smoke. After the excitement he had lately passed through, the first few whiffs of his cigar were soothing and consolatory in the extreme, but reflection comes with tobacco, not less surely than warmth comes with fire; and soon he began to see the crowd of fresh difficulties which the events of tonight would bring swarming round his devoted head. How he cursed his foolish calculations, his illjudged caution, his cowardly scruples, thus to have postponed the ceremony of marriage till too late. How impossible it would be now, to throw dust in the eyes of society as to dates and circumstances! how fruitless the reparation which should certainly be put off no longer, no, not a day! It seemed so hard that he, of all the world, should have injured the woman who loved him, the woman whom he so devotedly loved in return. He almost hated the innocent baby for its inopportune arrival; but remembering how that poor little creature too must
bear the punishment of his crime, he flung the end of his cigar against the stove with a curse, and for one moment, only one bitter, painful moment, found himself wishing he had never met, never loved, his darling; had left the lamb at peace in its fold, the rose ungathered on its stalk.
The clock did not tick twice before there came a reaction. It seemed so impossible that they should be independent of each other. He would not be himself without Nina! and the flow of his affection, like the back-water of a mill-stream, returned only the stronger for its momentary interruption. After all, Nina was everything, Nina was the first consideration. Something must be done at once. As soon as she could bear it, that ceremony must be gone through which should have been performed long ago. He was young, he was impatient, he would fain be at work without delay; so he turned to his writing-table, and began opening certain letters that had already followed him into France, but that he had laid aside without examination, in the excitement of the last few hours.
They were not calculated to afford him much distraction. A circular from a coal company, a couple of invitations to dinner, a tailor's bill, and a manifesto from the firm, calling attention to the powers of endurance with which their little account had made running' for a considerable period, while promising a lawyer's letter' to enforce payment of the same. Next this hostile protocol lay a business-like missive bearing a Lincoln's Inn look about it not to be mistaken, and which Bruce determined he would leave unopened till the morning, when, if Nina had slept, and was doing well, he felt nothing in the world could make him unhappy.
'Serves me right, though,' he yawned, 'for deserting Poole. He wouldn't have bothered me for a miserable pony at such a time as this;' and flinging off his clothes, in less than five minutes he was as fast asleep as if he had never known an anxiety in the world, but was lulled by the soothing considerations of a
well-spent past, an untroubled conscience, and a balance at his banker's!
So he slept, and dreamed not as those sleep who are thoroughly outwearied in body and mind, waking only when the sun had been up more than an hour, and the stormy night had given place to a clear, unclouded day.
The Channel was all blue and white now; the rollers, as they subsided into a long heaving groundswell, bringing in with them a freight of health and freshness to the shore. The gulls were soaring and screaming round the harbour, edging their wings with gold as they dipped and wheeled in the morning light. Everything spoke of hope and happiness and vitality. Bruce opened his window, drew in long breaths of the keen, reviving air, and stole to listen at Nina's door.
How his heart went up in gratitude to heaven! Mother and child were sleeping-so peacefully, so soundly. Mother and child! At that early period the dearest, the sweetest, the holiest link of human love-the gold without the dross, the flower without the insect, the wine without the headache, the full fruition of the feelings without the wear and tear of the heart.
He could have kissed the antiquated French chambermaid, dressed like a Sister of Mercy, who met him in the passage, and wishing Monsieur' good-morning, congratulated him with tears of honest sympathy in her glittering, bold black eyes. He did give a five-franc piece to the alert and well-dressed waiter, who looked as if he had never been in bed, and never required to go. It may be this impulse of generosity reminded him that five-franc pieces were likely to be scarce with him in future, and an unpleasant association of ideas brought the lawyer's letter to his mind. There it lay, square and uncompromising, between his watch and his cigar-case. He opened it, I am afraid, with a truly British oath.
He turned quite white when he read it the first time, but the blood rushed to his temples on a second
perusal, and he flung himself down on his knees at the window-sill, thanking Providence, somewhat inconsiderately, for the benefits that only came to him through another man's death.
This letter, indeed, though the composition of a lawyer, had not been written at the instance of his long-suffering tailor, but was from the solicitor who conducted the business of his family. It advised him, in very concise language, of his great-uncle's sudden demise,' as it was worded, 'intestate;' informing him that he thus became heir, as next of kin, to the whole personal and real property of the deceased, and concluded with sincere congratulations on his accession to a fine fortune, not without a hope that their firm might continue to manage his affairs, and afford him the same satisfaction that had always been expressed by his late lamented relative, &c.
The surprise staggered him like a blow. From such blows, however, we soon come to time,' willing to take any amount of similar punishment. He gave himself credit for self-denial in not waking Nina on the instant to tell her of their good fortune. Still more, he plumed himself on his forethought in resolving to ask her doctor's leave before he entered on so exciting a topic with the invalid. He longed to tell somebody. He was so happy, so elated, so thankful! and yet, amidst all his joy, there rankled an uncomfortable sensation of remorse and self-reproach when he thought of the little blighted life, the little injured helpless creature nestling to its young mother's side in the next
CHAPTER II. 'NIGHTFALL.'
It is more than twenty years ago, and yet how vividly it all comes back to him to-night.
The sun has gone down in streaks of orange and crimson over the old oaks that crown the deer park sloping upward to the rear of Ecclesfield Manor. Mr. Bruce walks across a
darkened room to throw the window open for a gasp of fresh evening air, laden with the perfume of pinks, carnations, and moss-roses in the garden below. Her garden! Is it possible? Something in the action reminds him of that bright, hopeful morning at Calais. Something in the scent of the flowers steals to his brain half torpid and benumbed ; his heart contracts with an agony of physical suffering. My darling! my darling!' he murmurs, shall I never see you tying those flowers again?' and turning from the window, he falls on his knees by the bedside with a passionate burst of weeping that, like blood-letting to the body, restores the unwelcome faculty of consciousness to his mind. When he raises his head again he knows well enough that the one great misfortune has arrived at last -that henceforth for him there may come, in the lapse of long years, resignation, even repose, but hope and happiness no more.
Even now, though he wonders at his own callousness, he can bear to look on the bed, through a mist of tears, and so looking, feels his intellect failing in its effort to grasp the calamity that has befallen him.
There she lies, like a dead lily, his own, his treasure, his beloved; the sweet face, calm and placid, with its chiselled ivory features, its smooth and gentle brow, has already borrowed a higher, a more perfect beauty from the immortality on which it has entered. Not fairer, not lovelier, did she look that well-remembered evening when he first knew her pure and priceless heart was his own, though she has borne him a daughter-nay, two daughters (and he winces with a fresh and different pain)-the younger as old as she was then. Her raven hair is parted soft and silky off those pale, delicate temples; her long black lashes rest upon the waxen cheek. No; she never looked as beautiful, not in the calm sleep he used to watch so lovingly; and now the deep, fond eyes must open on his own no more. She was so gentle, too, so patient, So sweet-tempered, and oh! so true. He had been a man of the world, neither better nor worse than others:
he knew women well; knew how rare are the good ones; knew the prize he had won, and valued it—yes, he was sure he always valued it as it deserved. What was the use? Had she not far better have been like the others-petulant, wilful, capricious, covetous of admiration, careless of affection, weak-headed, shallow-hearted, and desirous only of that which could not possibly be her own? Such were most of the women amongst whom he had been thrown in his youth; but oh! how unlike her who was lying dead there before his eyes.
For men at most differ as heaven and earth, But women, worst and best, as heaven and hell,'
He felt so keenly now that she had been his better angel for more than twenty years; that but for her he might long ago have deteriorated to selfishness and cynicism, or sunk into that careless philosophy which believes only in the tangible, the material, and the present.
A good woman's lot may be linked to that of a bad man; she may even love him very dearly, and yet retain much of her purer, better nature amidst all the mire in which she is steeped; but it is not so with us. To care for a bad woman is to be dragged down to her level, inch by inch, till the intellect itself becomes sapped in a daily degradation of the heart. From such slavery emancipation is cheap under any suffering, at any sacrifice. The lopping of a limb is a painful process, but above a gangrened wound experienced surgeons amputate without scruple
On the other hand, a true woman's affection is of all earthly influences the noblest and most elevating. It encourages the highest and gentlest qualities of man's nature his enterprise, courage, patience, sympathy, above all, his trust. Happy the pilgrim on whose life such a beacon-star has shone out to guide him in the right way; thrice happy if it sets not until it has lured him so far that he will never again turn aside from the path.
Such reflections as these, while they added to his sense of loss and
loneliness, yet took so much of the sting out of Mr. Bruce's great sorrow, that he could realize it for minutes at a time without being goaded to madness, or stunned to apathy by the pain."
There had been no warning-no preparation. He had left her that morning as usual, after smoking a cigar in her society on the lawn, while she tied, and snipped, and gathered the flowers of her pretty garden. He had visited the stable, ordered the pony-carriage, seen the keeper, and been to look at an Alderney cow. It was one of his idle days, yet, after twenty years of marriage, such days he still liked to spend, if possible, in the company of his wife. So he strolled back to write his letters in her boudoir, and entered it at the garden door, expecting to find her, as usual, busied in some graceful feminine employment.
Her work was heaped on the sofa; a book she had been reading lay open on the table; the very flowers she gathered an hour ago had the dew on them still. He could not finish his first letter without consulting her, for she kept his memory, his conscience, and his money, just as she kept his heart, so he ran upstairs to her bedroom door and knocked.
There was no answer, and he went in. At the first glance he thought she must have fainted, for she had fallen on her knees against a high-backed chair, her face buried in its cushions, and one hand touching the carpet. He had a quick eye, and the turn of that grey rigid hand warned him with a stab of something he refused persistently to believe. Then he lifted her on the bed where she lay now, and sent for every doctor within reach.
He had no recollection of the interval that elapsed before the nearest could arrive, nor distinct notion of any part of that long sunny afternoon while he sat by his Nina in the death-chamber. Once he got up to stop the ticking of a clock on the chimneypiece, moving mechanically with stealthy footfall across the room lest she should be disturbed. The doctors came and
went, agreeing, as they left the house, that he had answered their questions with wonderful precision and presence of mind; nay, that he was less prostrated by the blow than they should have expected. 'Disease of the heart,' said they-I believe they called it 'the pericardium;' and after paying a tribute of admiration to the loveliness of the dead lady, discussed the leading article of that day's Times' with perfect equanimity. What would you have? There can be but one person in the world to whom another is more than all the world beside.
This person was sitting by Nina's bed, except for a few brief minutes at a time, utterly stupefied and immovable. Even Maud - his cherished daughter Maud-whose smile had hitherto been welcome in his eyes as the light of morning, could not rouse his attention by the depth of her own uncontrolled grief. He sat like an idiot or an opium eater, till something prompted him to open the window and gasp for a breath of fresh evening air. Then it all came back to him, and he awoke to the full consciousness of his misery.
There are men, though not many, and these, perhaps, the least inclined to prate about it, who have one attachment in their lives, to which every other sentiment is but an accessory and a satellite. Such natures are often very bold to dare, very strong to endure, very difficult to assail, save in their single vulnerable point. Force that, and the man's whole vitality seems to collapse. He does not even make a fight of it, but fails, gives in, and goes down without an effort. Such was the character of Mr. Bruce, and to-day he had gotten his deathblow.
The stars twinkled out faintly one by one, the harvest-moon rose broad and ruddy behind the wooded hill, and still he sat, stupefied, at the bedside. The door opened gently to admit a beautiful girl, strangely, startlingly like her dead mother, who came in with a cup of tea and a candle. Setting these on the chimney-piece, she moved softly round to where he sat, and pressed