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Had he made the best of his position? Sir John commenced to feel very doubtful on this point. He began to marvel whether he had repented as he ought-borne as he ought. That he was being aroused by some means from a morbid condition of mind and a habit of melancholy thought is certain, from the fact that occasionally he found himself trying to look at his life from the point of view bystanders would take of it. Suppose another man stood exactly where he stood, no past or present circumstance altered, what should he think of his conduct? If called upon to give a dispassionate opinion, what could he say?
Sir John did not know what to answer. That he was wrong somewhere, he felt. That in try ing to atone for one false step he had simply gone on making more false steps, he was beginning to perceive. The sin had been bad enough, and then to try and make it better he had piled upon it concealment and false pretences, and a deceit which was none the less dangerous because it was silent, and untruths acted though not spoken, so that indeed his last state was worse than his first.
Another view of the question also came to perplex him. How far had he been honest even to his own heart? Had he made no mistake regarding his feelings? Was there no cause but one for the remorse so deep and real, for the repentance which had grown almost morbid?
What if he had been happy in his home instead of wretched? what if the woman to whom his lot was linked had loved, studied, appreciated him, sympathised with his sorrow, striven to soothe his life? Would he have repented so bitterly then?
Had the consciousness of his
mistake quickened his moral perceptions? Was it just possible that, mingled with the remorse he truly felt for having deceived Mr. Palthorpe, was grief because he had likewise deceived himself?
A man not given to self analysis, to asking his inner self the cause for this, the reason for that, more ready to accept results than to ask whence they arose, he had never before, save in the vaguest way, imagined that his sorrow for that fatal step might be at all induced by the evil domestic fortune which had followed it. Now, however, when he heard of men saying they could not repent because sin was so sweet, they had found life so happy though spent in wrong-doing, love so strong it made them forget or defy all fear of punishment, he stood still and examined his own heart in silence.
He could not tell whether, if guilt had proved pleasant to him, he might have looked at existence through such dark glasses as was the case. He did not feel sure of himself. He knew he should have abhorred his own treachery, but he might not have found existence so gloomy. He tried to find a parallel case in fact or fiction; but he tried in vain. 'Nature,' says Lord Lytton, 'casts nothing in stereotype.' And the same remark holds good with regard to human experience; no two experiences ever are or ever can be identically similar in the broad outline there may be a resemblance which at first misleads a superficial observer; but come to examine the filling up closely, and points of difference will be found at every turn.
Still the endeavour did him good. As virtue is its own reward, so the unusual effort of searching into the recesses of human hearts strengthened this man, who hitherto had but vaguely understood
the workings of his own. It furnished also food for thought. So kindly and sympathetic a nature I could not but feel taken out of itself when contemplating the countless modes in which mankind can make itself, or be made, wretched; the way in which it will plunge into error when it might walk safely hand in hand with right; the curious perversity with which it chooses darkness rather than light, and the persistent delight it seems to take in thwarting every effort to insure its comfort and happiness.
It was well he had found some other subject for contemplation besides the ruin of his own life, for just at that time he began to imagine that Holyrood House was likely to thrust more difficulties upon him than he had bargained for. Fashion having marked Lady Moffat for her own, there was no concealing the fact that extravagance had commenced to inoculate the establishment. There are residences that almost as surely bring ruin upon their owners as particular shops which produce bankruptcy in tradesmen; and the bulk of mansions now built for gentlemen making their money in the City are admirably planned and contrived for conducting merchant princes to Portugal-street or the Continent.
Rachel had been right when she said the house in Palace Gardens was not a place in which to live. To dine in with a large number of guests; to give balls in to an immense circle of acquaintances; to dress in for going out to other dinners and balls given by people of the same rank in life and residing in mansions of a similar type; to compel the maintenance of far too many servants; to give employment to tradesmen, who, making money easily, and charging fancy prices for their
goods, themselves fell into reckless improvident habits, and followed their betters to ruin, for all these purposes, and many more of a like description, Holyrood House was admirably adapted; but as a home it could not but be regarded as an entire mistake.
In self-defence almost a man had to invite visitors to the house. If left alone in the place, the only thing he could do would be to ask himself where he could go to get out of it. Sir John had thought rashly it would be possible to live in any residence with a moderate profusion, a wise liberality, but he found this to be a mistake.
In great mansions built for a different rank in olden times a portion can be shut off, a suite of rooms closed at pleasure; but in houses which are built for the newly rich this is not possible. They are meant to be fully inhabited at once and always; they are staring inside as well as out; there is no modest reticence about any part of them; if there were a thousand rooms they would all present themselves to view. They are like Hampton Court, a suite of apartments; but unlike Hampton Court they have not quiet outof-the-way nooks and corners to which the public are not admitted.
To a gentleman of quiet tastes, who saw no particular necessity for travelling the road to insolvency as some people take their last earth's journey to the grave, attended with a great show of pomp and ceremony and a number of ravening tradesmen and mercenary retainers, such a place was a mere white elephant, and likely to become quite as irksome.
Sitting in his library, the most habitable room on the groundfloor, Sir John Moffat had thought out this question when reviewing the events of the past few months, and as seriously in its different
way began to repent his investment as he had marrying his wife. When he went down to Scarborough he found the same considerations forced upon him by one of those modern caravanserai so largely affected by wealthy travellers on the road to ruin; and when he returned home he had plenty of food for similar reflections in the conduct of Lady Moffat, and a certain matter connected with his daughter which caused him more uneasiness than at first so slight a circumstance might seem to warrant.
'Papa,' said Rachel one morning, when, having finished breakfast, they stood down together on the terrace looking at the blue haze that lay over the oaks and yews in Kensington Gardens, betokening a sultry day, are you angry with Edwina?'
He looked at her in mild amazement.
'No, my dear; what put such an idea into your head? why should I be angry with Edwina?'
'She is afraid you are displeased with her; that she has vexed you.'
'No, she has not vexed me; at least, when I say I wish she would wear longer dresses, and put up her hair instead of letting it stream down her back like the woman in Mrs. Allen's advertisements I pointed out to her on a hoarding the other day, I am not really vexed. I dislike the style of dress she affects; but as I see other girls go about looking even faster and madder than herself, I suppose I ought to be satisfied.'
'Dear papa, it is not that I mean,' said Rachel. She is having new dresses made, and she will put up her hair when we can find a way of dressing it that suits her. She wants to please you; she is so afraid you are angry, and, indeed, she meant no harm.'
VOL. XXXVII. NO. CCXXV.
'I have not the faintest notion, Rachel, what you are talking about,' said Sir John. 'I brought her back with me merely because I thought she would be better and safer at home than at Scarborough; but I am not so unreasonable as to find any fault with her, poor child; that would indeed be foolish.'
'Yes,' agreed Rachel. 'And besides, she meant no harm; it was only once.'
We are certainly playing at cross-purposes,' interrupted Sir John. What was only once?' 'Going out for a sail with Mr. Lassils.'
'Who is Mr. Lassils?'
'I am sure I don't know, papa. He was here at the ball, and Wina has met him a few times since, and then he joined her and the boys that morning when they were on the sands; and poor Wina had no idea it would displease you, or I know she would not have gone in the boat. She has been quite unhappy about it. She thinks you must have felt very angry, or you would not have brought her off in such a hurry.'
To describe the astonishment depicted on Sir John's countenance would be impossible.
'I know nothing about the matter,' he said. You can tell Edwina I had no idea she had been on the water, and that, till this minute, I never heard Mr. Lassils' name. However,' he added, 'now I have heard about the matter, I am all the more glad I brought her home with me. I wonder she did such a thing. Surely she is old enough to have known better, even though no one might be at hand to tell her she was wrong.'
'I assure you, papa, Dwina had not the least thought of doing wrong. She went just as a child might have done; she did not
suppose there was any impropriety in going. Mr. Lassils is nothing to her, as she says. He told them all that is, I mean Dwina and the boys-he was "booked." Don't look so shocked, please, papa,' added Rachel, laughing. I am only repeating what I believe he really said-" Booked to eighty thousand pounds. There is a rock," he exclaimed, "for a War-Office limpet to stick to." What is the matter, papa? Do you think such a remark very dreadful?'
'No,' answered Sir John; 'it is not that. Young folks in the present day do use expressions which seem very odd to old people; but I suppose when I was young myself I employed eccentricities of language that exasperated my elders. No, it is not that, Rachel; only-can such a thing be possible as that Edwina is thinking already about love and lovers? Why, it seems scarcely the other day since she was a baby.'
Wherein Sir John was not exaggerating. In a monotonous life, whether it be happy or miserable, the years look short when man gazes back over them.
'She is seventeen, papa,' said Rachel, shaking her pretty head sagely.
'Seventeen, indeed,' he repeated; and how old is seventeen? She ought to be thinking of dolls instead of lovers.'
away to ruin-nothing of the sort. A pair of blue eyes gazing across the vista of years, which at that moment did not appear narrow; a sweet frank smile, with nevertheless a sad foreboding wistfulness shadowing it; a tender gratitude which pierced his heart. Ah, she was like him-like the dead father she had never seen, never since babyhood heard of, whose name, if she had ever known it, she had long since forgotten, who was for her as though he had never existed, whose place and memory were filled by another. It was but for a moment; then, the past dropping out of sight, the future, with its certain difficulties, rose before him. Nerving himself to face it, he said,
'And you, Rachel; do you ever think of such things?'
She answered readily and innocently, though blushing, as even girls quite heart-whole will blush at such questions,
'I, papa? O, no. It would not be any good, you know. I am going to be an old maid.'
'An old maid!' repeated Sir John, gazing upon her fresh young beauty, her calm brow, her fair loveliness, which was at once intensely womanly and softly angelic, with a different feeling stirring in his breast from any which had ever before moved him to emotion. He had always, he knew, hoped she never would marry, that the story might remain hidden, the secret of her birth untold; but now, he thought, was such a lot really in store for her? O, the pity of it! How such a nature would be loved! how it could love! what sunshine it might shed around some happy dwelling! how she would delight in the voices of her children, and share all the joys and sorrows of her husband! Ah, no! ah, no! Whatever the trouble to him, when,
in some good future day, one worthy of her gained her heart and sought her hand, Sir John would speed his suit. An old maid! nay, rather a willing bride, an honoured wife, a proud tender mother. In the long perspective of the coming years he saw all this through eyes clouded with the mists of coming sorrows.
'Why do you talk such nonsense, child?' he asked.
'It is not nonsense, papa,' she answered. It is not I alone who say it. Mamma and Dwina often tell me I shall never be married, and the very servants feel sure I was "cut out for an old maid." I am going to stay with you always, papa. You remember we settled that long ago.'
He laid his hands on her shoulders, and gazed upon her with such an exceeding anguish in his worn face, with such a depth of trouble in his eyes, that Rachel felt her own filling with tears; she, who knew how far from happy his life had been, how little happiness it was ever likely to hold, felt her own filling with tears.
'God forbid, dear, that I should be so selfish as to wish such a thing and just touching her forehead with his lips, he hurriedly left the room.
A DULL gloomy day, one of a species so indigenous to the British climate that it springs up at all seasons, and apparently under conditions of weather most unfavourable to its development.
The previous evening had been lovely, sinking after a pensive sunset sweetly into the arms of night; no chill winds sweeping amongst
the trees in Kensington, and strewing the ground with leaves still green; no driving rain, no ominous storm clouds: a warm, fine, kindly evening for the time of year-one that had tempted the Moffats out in the light of a young moon, and kept them sauntering up and down the terrace even after Mr. Woodham, who dined at Holyrood House, said it was getting so late he really must go.
And now, if Nature had been in its coffin, a thicker and darker pall could scarcely have covered its fair face.
Rain had fallen plentifully in the night, and the earth was sodden and soaked with wet. The late flowers were beaten down to the ground; the wind moaned mournfully without and within the house. Everything looked a good mud-colour; the very grass of Kensington seemed to have a layer of brown over its green. The solitary cow drooped its head disconsolately; a horse came and laid his neck over the railings dividing the gardens from Holyrood House, and gazed mournfully around.
It was a miserable day. The rain had given over, so that even the excitement of hearing it pattering on the terrace or seeing it drive across the landscape was denied to the two girls keeping house that forenoon in Palace Gardens.
Edwina, with a fur cloak round her shoulders, lay back in an easychair drawn up close to the fire, reading a novel which she pronounced to be-and with some justice, perhaps the most wearisome book that was ever written.
In such weather Edwina never showed to advantage in the home circle. She was more wretched than the day, more dull than the skies, more trying than the oppressive atmosphere. She did not