« AnteriorContinua »
being of value perhaps to the child—which “DEAREST M.,-You are a thorough of course I shall be very willing to leave
How could I be at F- when I them with you, ma'am – for being no was twenty miles the other way? You will scholard, as I says before"
see me some time next week. Get the As Mrs. Cray stands there, repeating the dress by all means. I inclose check. same sentences again and again, and “ Yours truly,
E. H." fumbling the dirty packet about in her hands, a light breaks in upon Irene. The When Irene has deciphered these and a letters are to be paid for. And she is quite few others, very similar in character, she ready to pay for them, for her interest and
pauses for a moment's thought. curiosity are alike aroused by what the What do they tell her? Positively nothlaundress has told her, and she hopes the ing but what she knew before. It is evipapers may prove of use in tracing the dent that the writer was not a passing parentage of her adopted child.
acquaintance of the dead girl's, but some “0, certainly, I quite understand !" she one who considered her home as his, and exclaims, eagerly, as her hand dives into held himself responsible for her expendiher pocket for her purse;
" and I'm sure
ture; without doubt, the father of her I'm much obliged to you, Mrs. Cray, for child, the Hamilton of whom Myra had the trouble you have taken in bringing spoken to her. them up to me.” And thereupon she Irene thrusts the letters to one side inseizes on the letters, and transfers instead dignantly, almost with disgust. She fana sovereign to the woman's palm--an ex- cies she can trace the selfish nature of the change which so entirely meets Mrs. Cray's writer in every line; she thinks she would views of justice, that it is several minutes not care to stand in that man's place at the before Irene can stop her torrent of thanks, present moment, and only wishes she could and get her well out of the room again. find some clue by which to trace him, and
It is dusk now, for the autumn evenings make him aware of the mischief and misery close in fast, and she rings for candles, he has wrought. and, full of expectation, sits down to in- Having disposed of the letters, she next spect the contents of the packet she has takes up the glove-a gentleman's glove, as bought. She is so deeply interested in the laundress had observed, but of no value this case-so sentimentally regretful still in tracing the identity of its owner-and over the memory of poor Myra-so anxious the envelop that contains the lock of hair. that her child should not be left entirely It is a soft wavy piece of dark brown dependent on herself for a friend. So she hair, the counterpart of that which grows draws her chair close in to the table, and on Tommy's head, and Irene experiences a leans both her arms upon it, and bends her strange sensation of mingled adiniration head down to the light, as people do who and dislike as she takes it in her hand. are about to enter on a task that engrosses Besides these, the packet contains nothing all their minds. When she has cast away but a gold locket, broken and empty; a the dirty string, and still dirtier outside
heap of withered flowers, chiefly violets, paper, she comes upon a small bundle of and one of those highly ornamental and letters, or rather notes, in number about strictly useless ivory-backed prayer-books, six, and which, to judge from two or three which are manufactured for young gentlespecimens selected at random, do not ap- men to present to young ladies, and which pear at first sight likely to prove wortb a Myra was very unlikely to have received sovereign vested in the interests of Tommy: from any friend in her own class of life. DEAR MYRA,-Don't expect me to
Irene opens the prayer-book to see if there morrow. It is impossible I can come. The
is any inscription in it, but the title-page is bill shall be paid next week.
guiltless of the indiscretion of revealing its
donor's name. It is blank, and silent, and E. H."
inscrutable as the past appears likely to be "DEAR M.,-I shall be over on Friday upon the subject of her adopted child. at six. Never mind dinner. Shall dine She turns over the leaves mechanically before starting. I ordered in six dozen of and with an air of disappointment. At the claret yesterday. Carriage was paid. service for the solemnization of marriage “Yours affectionately,
Ε. Η.” the page is folded down. Poor Myra! how
* Yours ever,
often may she not have glanced at the holy most as though she were in a dream, and words, which bore no sweet memories for
still dreaming, encounters her sister-in-law her, with longing tears! As Irene's hand
upon the stairs. shakes, the little volume shakes, and some- “Are you not coming down into the drawthing-an oval piece of cardboard appar- ing-room ?” says Isabella. “I think-that ently-falls loosely from it on the table.
is, I am not sure, of course--but I believe She seizes and turns it uppermost. It is a that my brother is expecting you. Coffee photographed face, cut from an ordinary has been in for half an hour.” carte de visite, which, from its size and ap- “Don't wait for me," Irene replies, in a pearance, has evidently once been encased
low voice, as she toils in a languid purposein the broken locket-the face of a man, less manner up the staircase. which she holds forward eagerly to the As she gains her bedroom door, Phoebe light.
appears upon the landing from her own “God in heaven, it is that of Eric Keir!"
“O please, ma’am, would you just step In her anxiety to examine the portrait, in and look at Master Tommy? He do Irene has risen to her feet, and now stands, look so beautiful in his sleep.” quivering in every limb, and gazing at it as “No, no, I can't! I don't wish to see though she were spellbound. There can him. I don't care about seeing him," rebe no mistake; he appears younger here plies her mistress, in tones so unusually than when she knew him, there is less hair sharp and decisive, that Phoebe, bewilabout the face, less thought upon the brow, dered, retreats to her nursery again, feela look of more insouciance about the mouth. ing that somehow she has made a mistake. But the eyes, the nose, the contour of the Irene enters her own room and paces up countenance, are the same; there can be and down in the dark, not fast, but rest110 doubt but that it was taken from him- lessly. self.
“Myra Cray!” so run her thoughts, “But how-how can his photograph have lowborn uneducated girl, whom he was found its way amongst Myra's poor posses- base enough to betray and desert, and then sions? Why should it be mixed up with he came to me-to ME—and dared to trifle these relics of the base and selfish lover with my affections, too!'' who betrayed her innocence ?
The knowledge of the similarity between The deadly sickness that rises to her their cases should make her soften towards heart makes answer to the question. Myra's memory, but it does not; the shock
The initials E. H, stand for Eric Hamil- of the discovery has occurred too lately. ton; he is the man at whose door all the As yet she can only think of her as of one suffering she has witnessed must be laid; who (however briefly) held the heart she his child, whom she has adopted as her was unable to secure. And she is impoown, lies sleeping at this moment under tently weak to cope with a feeling which her protection.
she knows to be unworthy of her; and the As the reality of the thought strikes whole world loses favor in her eyes in conhome to her, Irene lets the photograph fall sequence of her own defalcation. from her hands, and sinks back upon the As she is still walking up and down the chair which she had quitted.
room, trying hard to stamp down the deEric Hamilton Keir and Myra Cray. For mons of envy, and jealousy, and revenge, a few moments all that she does or thinks that are struggling for supremacy in her of doing is to repeat those two names con- bosom, Colonel Mordaunt's deferential tap junctively over and over again, until the for admittance is heard against the door. syllables lose all significance for her. It is an unfortunate moment for himn in
The effect is to harden her heart and which to appear before her; we are best cause it to feel quite dead and cold. Pres- left to conduct these mental warfares by ently she hears a sound outside in the hall, ourselves, and there are moments in life and, springing up, pushes all the sad me- in which the attentions of our best and mentos of poor Myra's disgrace together dearest friends irritate instead of soothing in one heap, and thrusting them into the And all Colonel Mordaunt's attenwriting-table drawer, turns the key upon tions, however kindly meant, are conductthem. And then she leaves the room, al- ed on that soothing stroke-you-down-gently principle which is so trying to accept pa- us say no more about it, but go down to tiently when every nerve is quivering with Isabella." And for the remainder of the excitement.
evening she is, to all outward appearance, “Why, my darling," he commences, “all inuch like her usual self. She goes to bed, in the dark! What can you find to amuse however, sleeps brokenly, and rises in the you up here ?"
morning unrefreshed. The revelation of “O, I'm all right, thank you! I don't the night before has made no difference in feel inclined for the light just now; I'm her future prospects, nor can it influence thinking."
in any way lier present actions; but it has "And what can the little woman be revived all her bitterest feelings with rethinking about that requires both gloom gard to Eric Keir's behaviour to herselfand solitude? Nothing unpleasant, I hope, feelings which she had hoped were long Irene ?"
since laid to rest, because the tame exist“How should it be ?"
ence which she is leading affords no oppor“ Then come down to the drawing-room, tunity of arousing them. But the dull my darling. Isabella is waiting till yo'ı leaden weight wbich, alternated with fierce appear to pour out the coffee.''
moods of scorn and irony, once rendered “I would much rather not go; why can't life a torture to her has settled down upon she take it alone ?”
her heart again, and disposes her to feel “What reason can you have for not join- hard and cold to all mankind, until, wbilst ing her ?”
she is dressing, a certain chubby hand "Only that I feel a little—a little hipped knocks uncertainly upon her bedroom to-night, and would rather remain by my door. She knows well the faint broken self.”
sound his dimpled knuckles make, and " Hipped! Why, what on earth can you generally flies to the door to open it herhave to make you feel hipped ? Has any self. But to-day her brows contract, and thing gone wrong?”
she shrinks backward as though the mere “I have already said no to that question. knowledge of his presence there could give But is it absolutely necessary, in order to her pain. feel low, that we should be suffering in the If you please, ma'am, it's Master Tompresent? Have we no past to return at my," says Phæbe's voice from the outside. times upon us ?''
“I can't see him this morning, Phæbe. Irene forgets, as she says this sentence, Let him run in the garden until we come how much confidence she reposed in her down." husband before marriage; and as it escapes “I want 00-I want oo!" says Tommy, her, and the remembrance returns, she as he kicks at the bedroom door. grows still more impatient with herself and “Are you going to let that child kick all him.
the paint off the panelling?" shouts her “I had hoped,” he observes (and the husband from his dressing-room. observation alone, in her present condition, 'If you please, ma'am, he's been in the carries offence with it), “that your past garden already, and he's got a most beauwas done away with forever, Irene.” tiful rose for you-haven't you, Tommy?”
“I never gave you cause to hope so," “Let me in! I want ou!" repeats the she retorts, sharply. And he turns away protege. in silence to leave the room. In a moment Then she advances slowly and unlocks she has seen her error and sprung after the door, and admits the child before him.
Phæbe can follow him, and finds herself “Forgive me, Philip; I am in a horrid standing in the centre of the room, gazing temper! But when you talk of my past as with her large hungry eyes at the atom of gone forever, you forget that I have lost humanity whose existence vexes her so my father and mother, and-and" sorely.
“There, there, darling! It is I who “What do you want, Tommy?” she should ask your forgiveness; I was a brute' commences, coldly. to say what I did. But I have been hoping “A rose for Tommy mamma-a booful I had made you happy, Irene."
rose," he lisps, as he presents the flower. "And so you have-very happy !” she re
She does not offer to accept it; on the turns, with a sort of hysterical gasp. “Let contrary, she turns away.
“Don't call me mamma,” she says, “ Fiddle-de.dee! Excuse my rudeness, quickly.
but you know fiddle-de-dee is the only The urchin looks astonished, and then word to suit your 'explanation. Seriously, pouts lis lips. Children are ready judges; though, is it anything in which I can help he recognizes the injustice and wayward- you?” ness of her new mood at once.
“Not at all, Oliver; thanks, all the same “I go, Phæbe," he utters, plaintively, -except, indeed, by not commenting upon in remonstrance to the change. Irene what you are pleased to call my being looks rour:d-sees the dewy mouth droop- down in the mouth.'" ing at both corners-catches the deprecat- “But may I tell you to what I think it's ing glance of the violet eyes-becomes due ?! aware of her barbarity in a moment, and Certainiy, if you canwhich I know flies to fold the friendless fatherless little
you can't.” creature in her arms.
" You are sorry you ever adopted that “As if 'twas your fault," she murmurs, little brat Tommy?” pressing her lips upon his curly head. She grows scarlet. “Poor lamb-poor, unhappy, deserted “ Indeed I'm not. What should make little child! O Tommy, he has left us you think so ? Has your uncle been sayboth-he has left us both-we will be all ing anything against him ?" the world to one another!"
“He never mentions the subject to me.
But I have seen you looking at the child The mistress of Fen Court is very thought- scores of times lately, and I can read it in ful for some days after this little episode, and only like herself by fits and starts, “Acute observer! but wrong, for once in though, strange to say, no one notices the his life. I wouldn't part with Tommy for
ge, except it be Oliver Ralston. But anything in the world." our most intimate friends are often the last “Not if I found his relations for you?" to read what is passing in our inmost minds. “He has no relations," hurriedly-“be We are suffering perhaps so keenly that we belongs to me entirely-he will never be scarcely dare to raise our eyes lest they taken away. But please let us talk 'of should blurt out our secret, and imagine something else, Oliver. Have you seen Dr. every one we meet must read it written on Robertson again ?” our brow in characters of fire; and yet "How artfully you change the subject! those with whom we live go on consulting Yes, I saw Robertson this morning, and us day after day with reference to the it's all but settled." weekly expenditure, or the servants' pec- “With Philip's consent ?" cadilloes, or the children's spring dresses, “ Certainly. He has come round to think as if, for the time being, such matters had it will be the best thing in the world for not lost their significance for us almost as And so it will. I have still sense much as though we had passed beyond enough to see that. There will not be them. Yet it is not so with strangers, un- much temptation for me to dissipate in less, indeed, we happen to be actors and Fenton. The only drawback is that I am actresses of the first rank. They meet us, afraid I shall not get so much practice as I and observe to one another afterwards, ought to have.” “What is that man's perplexity? What “O, never mind the practice! To lead cause can that woman have for weeping ?'' à quiet life is the most important thing. And so Oliver Ralston discovers that Irene And I promise you sball operate on me is not so cheerful as before, and taxes her whenever occasion calls for it." with it in his rough hearty way.
“What an opening! I'll hare both your “Dreaming again, Irene! What is up ?” legs off before the year's out. But really,
“When you can explain to me, Oliver, Irene, it will be a great thing for me to how much is comprehended in that mysti- . live so near you." cal termn, perhaps I may be able to tell you." “It will be perfectly delightful; for,
“ You know what I mean. Why are you entre nous, though poor Isabella is extrewe80 down in the mouth ??'
ly good, she is a very stupid companion. “The natural reaction after so inuch And you must come over and dine with us dissipation."
every day. Now, wont you?''
"And leave Robertson to look after his particular contribution to his nephew's five parishes alone? I'm afraid be wont new establishment. consent to that. But I must keep a horse, "And so, you see, Oliver, that's all right," and dare say I shall often be able to take is Irene's comfortable conclusion as the Fen Court in my rounds."
last clause has been discussed and provided "Are you going to live with Dr. Rob- for. And then follows a merrier evening ertson?
than they have spent for some days past; “No; he has a wife and large family, so for Irene catches the infection of her husI should prefer not to do so. But I can band's good-humor and Oliver's content, have two rooms in a farmhouse close by, and miraculously recovering her voice, very nice ones.”
which has been hors de combat for at least "And we will furnish them for you; that a week, sits up to a much later hour than will be charming. You have no idea how usual, singing snatches of old ballads that pretty I shall make them. I shall send you were famous before she was born, and inover table-linen, and crockery, and every- terrupting herself every second minute to thing from the Court. We have much twist round on the inusic-stool and make more than we
It will be the some little barmless joke at the expense of greatest fun in the world getting your
Oliver's future menage. rooms ready.”
So they all go to bed pretty well tired “You are much too good to me."
out, and my heroine does not wake until "And when you have taken possession her accustomed hour on the following you shall give a housewarming. Isabella morning. The first thing of which she is and I will go over in the pony-chaise, and conscious is that Colonel Mordaunt is alTommy shall ride his donkey. (By-the- ready up and dressed. way, do you know that I've bought a don- “Why, Philip" sitting up in bed and key for Tommy, and he sticks on like a rubbing her sleepy eyes—“is that really little brick ?'')—here Irene interrupts her you? Have I overslept myself ?” rapid delivery with a deep-drawn sigh. “I think not. It is only just eight. I “Why that sigh, Irene ?”
rose rather earlier than usual." What sigh ?"
" Why? Were you disturbed ? or is *At Tominy's name again. Ali, you there a meet to-day? By-the-way, Philip, can't deceive me! All the low spirits of were there carts in the night?” the last week are attributable to the exist- “Carts, my darling?" ence of that wretched child."
“Yes; scraping over the gravel. I fan“How you do tease me, Oliver! And. сied I heard them; or perhaps I dreamt it. it's very rude to break off the conversation I was very sleepy. Are you going away?" in that way. Where was I? O yes; the
“ I shall be back in a ininute," says her upshot is tbat we'll all go and have after- husband, hastily; but several ininutes noon tea at your Fenton apartments—that elapse, and he does not return, so Irene is, if you'll have us.”
rises and proceeds to dress herself. She is “How can you doubt it? Only your just about to ring for Phæbe to assist in proposals are so delightful, I'm afraid they the completion of her toilet when she is are too good to come true. What will attracted by a loud roar from somewhere Uncle Philip say to them ?”'
below stairs. Tommy has evidently come “Just wbat I do. But I will go and to grief. sound him at once." And off runs Irene “0, they have let him fall and hurt himin search of her husband. She finds Colo- self !” she exclaims aloud, all the maternal nel Mordaunt in a beaming humor, and solicitude with which her breast is laden everything goes right. He considers the springing into action directly a call is made offered appointment as good an opening as upon it; “they have let the baby fall!" a young man in Oliver's position could ex- And rushes to the door. pect to obtain; acknowledges he should like “Phoebe!" There is no answer; but she to have him near Fen Court; agrees heart- fancies a slight bustle is going on in the ily to every suggestion with respect to fur- hall, and bears, above the crying of the nishing the apartments, and even nuentions child, a confused and angry murmur, as of a certain strong hunting cob now standing voices engaged in argument. in his stables as very likely to be his own Phæbe, Phæbe, where are you? Bring