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though I may not be here to see it, mark my words.'
I can't say I ever did think much of Sir John as a master,' capped Mr. Simonds disparagingly. There was no presence about him. I am sure, when he had guests here, I have often felt almost ashamed to see him sitting so dull and silent.'
'Ah, if you had much to do with her, you'd only wish she would be silent,' said Winter. 'Of all the tempers I ever did come across-there, well, though I say it myself, I feel as if I must have been a saint to put up with such continual scolding and grumbling and airs and graces.'
'I wonder what's become of old Banks all this time,' marvelled Simonds; she ought to be in the thick of whatever is going to happen.'
'Mrs. Hemans told me on Sunday she is trying to keep Mr. Gayford's soul and body together. He has been very bad indeed with bronchitis,' explained Mrs. Larrup.
'She is a spiteful cat; but I will say this much for her, she takes good care of him,' observed Miss Winter. 'There is nothing he wants money can buy, Niel told me some time ago.'
'Then I am very certain she finds her interest in keeping him alive,' Simonds declared; a statement which found so much favour that a murmur of approval passed from lip to lip.
'Miss Rachel goes over there most days,' said Winter. 'Her ladyship is very anxious to know how he goes on. I believe she sends Banks money.'
'Likely enough; that sort of busybody always can get money. Miss Edwina does not go, I'll be bound.
She has too much to do meeting young Lassils in the Park;' and then their heads all drew closer together, and gossip got
very brisk indeed; and every one agreed it was a pity some one did not tell Sir John; not, indeed, that it would much signify, if he 'smashed,' whom his younger daughter took up with.
In those days, the servants at Holyrood House had very little to do; the social atmosphere was oppressive, and they had plenty of leisure time to consider the shortcomings of those whose bread they ate, and to speculate concerning Sir John's sudden and unaccountable absence from his home.
As for Lady Moffat herself, she passed the hours in a long fever of dread and apprehension.
Everything was found out now, though the world still remained in ignorance of her antecedents. Sir John knew all about the cruel deceit she had practised, had nothing more to learn as regarded her perfect knowledge of her husband's safety.
When I remember all,' he wrote to her, not in anger, but in sorrow, the anguish you have seen me suffer, the travail of my soul over the man I believed dead, I feel I cannot-as if I never could-forgive you. But for that you will not care; all you desire is money, position. The last, even if I wished, I could no longer give you; as regards the former, I shall settle upon you a moderate, but sufficient, income. Your husband, I understand, intends to sue for a divorce; and, as I intend to sell Holyrood House, it will be easier and better for you either to go abroad or retire to some quiet watering place. I have not yet fully decided upon my future arrangements; but in any case the children will live with me.'
And he hinted that the sooner she could leave Holyrood House, and betake herself to the contem
plative life indicated in his letter, the better he would be pleased.
But she could not give up everything in a moment at his bidding -wealth, rank, consideration
and sink into as total an obscurity as that from which he had raised her. To the world she was still Lady Moffat, to her children, to her servants; four people only knew her what she was; and she knew she could count on the silence of three of them. The fourth-ah! she dreaded him. But if she could only defer the evil day a little longer, who knows what might happen? For his own sake Sir John would never make the matter public, never try to prove she was not legally his wife; whilst as regards the other, fifty things were possible; amongst them, that he might die.
She had no scheme in her mind about killing him; though violent, she was not made of the stuff out of which murderers are fashioned. And yet, given the opportunity, supposing a chance had presented itself of slipping that obnoxious first husband out of the world, it may be she would have helped him over the hardest part of his long journey with as little remorse or compunction as she had stolen Rachel from the true hearts that loved her.
Now it may indeed be said Rachel was her only hope. She thought it not impossible that, for the sake of his child, her husband might let the dead past lie; Sir John, she knew, could be moulded by the girl. The more she reflected, the more probable it seemed to her she might yet escape the full measure of the punishment she dreaded.
If she could still remain Lady Moffat, if the world could only be induced to believe she and Sir John were separated merely because of incompatibility of tem
per, if she could close Thomas Palthorpe's lips, why, then, although things might not be quite so well as they had been, still no one should hear her complain.
The more she thought about the matter, the more satisfied she felt Rachel was now her only rock of safety. If there were only some one in whom she could confide, some one with whom she could take counsel! Doctor Dilton? Yes, the very first opportunity she would talk to him about the matter. How did it happen she had not thought of him before-knowing all the circumstances also?
But Doctor Dilton nipped her confidences in the bud.
You have not seen my elder daughter yet?' she said one day, fixing him with an anxious unsmiling gaze, which yet was meant to be gracious and winning, and which he felt covered more than her words conveyed.
No,' he answered shortly; ' and I don't want to see her. To be quite frank—'
'You never were anything else, I think,' she interrupted.
'I have no desire or intention of being mixed up with this business. I was called in to see you as Lady Moffat, and Lady Moffat, from a medical point of view, you remain to me.'
'But Rachel-' she began.
'Whatever you have got to say about her could be best said to her father, I should think,' he replied brusquely. I know pretty well what is in your mind, but it is of no use trying to take me into your confidence. I will have no say in the matter.'
Foiled here, Lady Moffat betook herself to her daughter, poor lonely Rachel, who was now, indeed, as desolate a maiden as could have been found in the length and breadth of London.
She heard from Sir John regularly; she had prayed that she might go and see him at the office, but he would not hear of it.
'Some day,' he wrote, I will explain everything, but when that day arrives I shall lose you.'
'NEVER,' she wrote back. You will always be to me my own dear father, as I shall be to you your own loving child.'
What a stab was there! what a cruel game of cross-purposes it all seemed what weary days those were! what a time of terrible suspense, of cruel uncertainty !
Rachel,'-it was Lady Moffat who spoke, standing in her daughter's room, and looking with wistful eyes that yet saw nothing of the landscape over the yews in Kensin ton that had grown so sadly familiar to her daughter's sight, if I asked you to do something for me, I wonder whether you would refuse my request?'
'You wonder, mamma!' repeated the girl, surprised. Surely you know there is nothing in the world you could ask me I would not do.' 'Do you mean that, Rachel? for I have not been a good mother to you; I never cared for you; I never loved you.'
'I know that,' answered the tender heart, with a little sob of pain; 'but it makes no difference. I would do anything I could, as though you loved me as much as you love Edwina and the boys.'
Lady Moffat stopped short. She was walking with a slow swinging movement, not habitual to her, up and down the room. There was a rest in Rachel's presence she did not feel elsewhere; a repose about her which, at the moment, seemed grateful to the stormy violent nature which had come to grief at last on a cruel iron-bound coast.
'I am not certain,' she answered, 'I ever loved Edwina or the boys. I don't think, Rachel, it is in me to love anything.'
In a moment the girl was beside her mother, had drawn her to a seat, and lay weeping on her breast.
'What can I do for you? she asked after a little time. Only tell me-only try me. Do you want me to go to papa? Yes, whether he is angry or not-0, he would not be long angry with me-I will go. What do you wish me to say? You will let me try to help you, won't you?'
Yes, Lady Moffat had no argument to urge against so laudable a desire. But she could not tell her yet, she said-not just yet; and so for a time they talked together, while the twilight deepened and the shadows crept on, and the figures of both became indistinct in the gathering darkness; and Winter wondered what on earth her ladyship was doing in Miss Rachel's room.
'What I want you to do for me one day-some day very soon, perhaps,' said the elder woman at last deliberately, and yet as if the words were wrung from her, 'is to go to your father-to stand between me and your father. When I ask you, will you?'
'Of course, dear mamma,' the girl answered, all unconscious of her mother's meaning; 'how could you think otherwise?'
That evening Simonds remarked at dinner her ladyship appeared in excellent spirits.
'I daresay she has good news from Sir John, and that he may pull through yet,' considered the butler. I hear he has gone to France again. Getting help, perhaps, from some of those foreign bankers.'
FOR BETTER, for worse.
'Pur down your work, aunt, and give me all your attention; I want to speak to you seriously;' and Mr. Palthorpe laid aside his book, and, crossing his arms upon the table near which he sat, answered with a grave wistful smile Miss Aggles' look of apprehen
'All speaking has been serious lately,' she said, folding up her knitting and sticking the needles carefully in it, as though her very soul were concentrated in the operation.
'Yes; but I have now made up my mind,' he answered. 'I have been a long time about it, certainly; still
'It was right for you to weigh the matter fully,' she replied firmly, though her voice trembled a little at first. 'I, for one, can see no reason why you should hesitate to free yourself at last from a trouble which has burdened all the best years of your life.'
He did not say anything for a minute; he only glanced round the pleasant cosy-looking room with an expression of quiet content.
Save for the servants, he and Miss Aggles were alone in the house. General Graham and his daughter had been gone for some time to stay with friends in the country; and it was tacitly understood amongst those who, till so recently, deemed they were always to make their pleasant home together, that when Mr. Palthorpe left Palace Gardens for good, as he meant to do ere long, the Grahams would return to the house and take up their abode in London.
Very little was said on the subject between General Graham and
his friend, but that little chanced to be so much to the purpose that the former clearly understood present arrangements could not continue.
Miss Aggles and Mr. Palthorpe were therefore alone, as they had often been before, in poverty and in prosperity, during the years which now seemed so many and so distant.
'You have never asked me where I spent the last few days,' he remarked, after a pause which seemed longer than was actually the case.
'No,' she answered; 'not-not with the Grahams?'
'I should be an even poorer fellow than I am had I done that,' he replied. I went to Ravelsmede.'
'To Ravelsmede! What in the wide world induced you to go there?'
'I wanted to see the old place. The Hall is to be sold.'
'Sold!' repeated Miss Aggles. 'How does that happen?'
'I do not know; but there the boards were up, and I asked leave to view the house and went through the familiar rooms. How small they looked! but O, how inexpressibly dear they seemed! I wandered among the plantations, and climbed the hill from which I used to watch the ships passing down the Channel; and then I walked slowly, not with the eager haste of former days,' he added, with a sad smile, 'down the path which led to the old orchard, where I used to see her with the sunlight glancing on her lovely face, that I thought once was the most beautiful in all the land.'
'It is beautiful still,' said Miss Aggles; but he put the remark aside with a gesture which proved that between the past and the present there was, for him, a gulf fixed as broad and deep as that
described in the parable as stretching, in the next world, between the rich man and the poor.
'If the joy and the sorrow, the harvest of love I thought I was reaping, the worldly loss I actually sustained, were matters only of yesterday instead of twenty and odd long years, they could not have seemed more present with me than was the case. I thought the whole affair over, considered my own part in it and hers, and I have determined,' he drew a quick gasping breath ere he added, to let her and her sin both rest; I shall not sue for a divorce.'
Even so,' he answered quietly. 'I have made up my mind; I feel no uncertainty on the subject now. I took her for better or worse; out of my own headstrong will I married her; and though it all turned out worse, I am not going to shrink from my part of the punishment. Look you,' he went on, the last time I saw the Hall the trees were green about it and the flowers in bloom, and the blue sky overhead and the bees humming amongst the ivy; now driving clouds made both sea and land look bleak and cold and gray. There was not a flower to be seen; the trees were bare, the birds silent; down in your old orchard not a bud, not a ruddy apple or a golden plum; no waving corn, no grass knee-deep in the meadows; but still it was the same place, and she-God help us both!-is the same woman she was.'
There ensued a long silence. Then said Miss Aggles, 'You ought to think most seriously about all this. The day may
'No,' he answered, the day
may not come; the day shall not come. What I say I have decided, and I now know a rest and a peace I never experienced since last I returned to England. If I were to sue for a divorce, now I know very well why I should strive for it, and that I should never afterwards experience one easy moment. Nothing I could do would help her; even if Sir John now married her, that could not undo the scandal caused by a public trial. And then there is Rachel to consider also.'
'Yes; what are you going to do about her?
'I must have my daughter,' was the answer. 'I will tell you all my plans, though I can scarcely say yet how I mean to carry them out. To-morrow I will see Dilton, and get him to settle matters with Sir John; I could not do that myself-I could not; and there is no need to take the lawyers into our confidence. I mean to buy the Hall. O, I forgot to mention, it turns out by some curious twist of fortune that old Nelfield's eighty thousand reverts to me. His direct heirs are dead, and my mother, it seems, if she had survived would now have been the nearest of kin. I shall make a handsome settlement on Madge, and see what can be done for Lassils; but I do not intend to give up the whole amount. And now I want you to do something for me. Before I see Dilton to-morrow I wish to put the matter beyond the power of recall. I want you to go and tell her so far as I am concerned she need fear no exposure. She may rely upon my promise. For his own sake and his children's Sir John will keep matters quiet. There will be a separation, but the world need not know why they separated. I have thought it all over; the greatest difficulty