herself before everything else.
On this occasion, however, Mrs. Conway did not make this
exception. ' Grood Heavens ! ' she cried aloud in a voice that made
her daughter utter also a little cry ; ' Ealph Pennicuick is dead ! '
' Oh, mamma, how shocking ! ' exclaimed Nelly ; ' let us hope
it is not true.'
^ Yes, it is true ; see here.' Her fat hands trembled with such
excitement that Nelly had to take the paper from her to read the
'By telegraph. Hong Kong, May 4. — English officer named
Pennicook has been put to death by the Chinese in the province
of Keangsoo. His companion has arrived at Shanghae.'
' It says " Pennicook," ' said Nelly faintly.
' That is a mistake, of course, in the telegram, as also the word
officer. It is Ealph Pennicuick, no doubt. Thank God, your
This was the first time that Mrs. Conway had ever suffered herself
to be surprised into any expression of solicitude upon her husband's
account, and she evidently regretted it as soon as it was uttered.
' It was very thoughtless and selfish of him to go with such a
companion on such a journey. You see it says " put to death " —
that is, by law. No doubt the man did something that roused the
anger of the natives.'
' Oh, mamma, what does it signify ? is it not enough that they
have killed him ? We cannot be sure, however, that such a cata-
strophe has happened. There is no telegraph between Shanghae
BREAKING IT. 219
and Hong Kong, and this may be a mere rumour. As you say,
however, thank Grod dear papa is safe/
* Xo doubt he is safe enough/ replied Mrs. Conway, adding
something in an undertone, which Nelly did not or would not
catch, about ' nought never coming to harm.'
' How terribly this will shock poor Ray ! ' sighed Nelly, with a
little outburst of tears ; she was glad to weep on Raymond's
account, since she could not do so upon his father's. ' He was
always such a good son.'
' I have known good sons who were not worth much in other
respects,' observed Mrs. Conway, still repentant of her tenderness.
' However, we shall soon see what he is made of. He will be his
own master now.'
' And very sorry he will be that it is so,' observed Nelly.
' No doubt he will — for a day or two. That will be only decent.
I am not so interested, however, in his filial feelings as I am as to
whether he will keep his promise or not.'
' ^^^lat promise, mamma ? '
' Well, it may not be exactly a promise : but it was only a
week ago, I believe, that he asked you to be his wife.'
' And I refused him, mamma. Raymond is quite free to do as
he pleases. But how can you think of such things with such news
as this before you ? Poor Mr. Pennicuick murdered, perhaps tor-
tured, by those dreadful people I I feel as if it were a judgment
upon us for what was said the other day about people " not troubling
themselves to come home." '
' As / said it, my dear,' answered Mrs. Conway drily, ' the
judgment, as you call it, has, I suppose, fallen upon me. And^
thank goodness, I have strength to bear it.'
220 BY PROXY,
There was something in Mrs. Conway's manner not only callous
and cruel, but, as it seemed to Nelly, almost triumphant in its
malice. She could not restrain a shudder as she listened to her.
' I am sorry to shock you so, my dear,' continued Mrs. Conway
quietly. ' I dare say I appear very unfeeling. However, since I
am your mother, try to persuade yourself that I may have some
good reasons for not making myself unhappy because this man is
dead. Of course I am sorry that it has happened in this way ; but
I do not pretend to be sorry that it has happened. It is better
for everybody, especially for his son, who has hitherto been his
slave ; he will now obtain his freedom.'
' At a great price,' sighed Nelly. It seemed to her a terrible
thing that a son should be made happy by his father's death ; and
yet she was aware that this would in some measure come to pass
in the present instance.
Her mother rose, and, patting her softly on the head, said ten-
derly, ' You are a good girl, my darling, too good for this world,
or at all events for any man in it. Dry your eyes and eat your
breakfast.' Then she left the room, leaving her own meal untasted.
Once in the passage, and beyond the observation of her
daughter, Mrs. Conway's face grew not only grave but pained.
This was not from distress of mind, however, but of body. She
leant against the wall with her hand upon her side, and uttered a
low groan. ' This must not kill me,' murmured she to herself.
' I must get over it somehow, or he will have the better of me yet.
Tortures ! he could not have suffered worse than I have done
during the last five minutes. It is the heart, no doubt. It
would be curious indeed if I should die " heart-broken " upon his
BREAKING IT. 221
She looked up at the stairs, which were steep for so old-
fashioned a house, and shook her head. Then she moved very
slowly and without noise into a room on the same floor at the back
of the breakfast-room, and separated from it by folding-doors.
Her face expressed the anxiety of a person who has a wound in
some \atal part, which has been stanched insecurely, and who is
afraid of its bleeding afresh. Like most women — which, poor souls,
is fortunate for them — she had a capacity for bearing pain. She
could be as secretive about it as the Spartan boy with his fox ; but
it sometimes betrayed itself by ' temper.'
'The doctor said " perfect rest," ' she murmured; 'I will lie
down here.' She placed herself cautiously upon the sofa, and
remained there without movement. Presently her face became
calm, and her lips began to move without sound slowly. You
would have said she was some good woman at her prayers. She
was not praying, but going through a certain scene in her mind
that had occurred in her pre^us life, and which had indeed a
sort of prayer for its conclusion. Could you have understood such
silent speech (as the deaf and dumb do), her last words would have
run thus : ' Dead, dead in his sins. May Grod forgive him as I do I '
Xelly, quite unconscious of her mother's propinquity, remained
meanwhile in the front room. She had obeyed tlie mandate as to
drying her eyes, but not that as to eating her breakfast. She felt
as if a morsel of bread would have choked her. Her sorrow for
what had happened was very genuine, though it was not for the
chief sufferer's sake at all. She was horrified that a man like
Pennicuick, vicious and heartless as she understood him to be,
should have been thus suddenly cut off from life. She was not
naturally conventional, and that she took in this instance a con-
4222 BY PROXY.
ventional view was proof how little her feelings were really cou-
-cerned. Under ordinary circumstances no one was quicker than
herself to perceive the absurdity of such phrases as ' hurried before
the judgment-seat of Heaven,' ' cut off in his sins,' &c., &c., as
though his Maker were unable to take the circumstances of a man's
death into account. But now she took refuge in these common-
places. It was less painful to her to let her thoughts dwell upon
the dead man than upon his son, because of the latter's relations
ivith herself; but they did revert to him, nevertheless, and to
herself in connection with him. She strove in vain to shut out
from her view that he was now in a position to offer his hand to
her with a certainty of its being accepted. She had no doubts of
his good faith whatever ; she knew that he had in fact plighted
it to her, notwithstanding what she had said to her mother about
his being a free man ; but she felt that with this news of death no
such anticipation of bliss should mingle. Through the gloom of
these tidings, however, there glinted in upon her bright streaks of
light ; thoughts of herself as Raymond's wife, of her mother's
satisfaction and comfort, and of her father's return to England,
which might now — since he would be relieved of all expenses upon
her account — be looked upon as certain. Even when those die who
are near to us, thoughts of personal advantage will thus intrude ;
how much more, then, when we derive benefit from the removal
from the world of those to whom we are indifferent.
It was Nelly's practice after breakfast to repair to her easel,
which stood in a little room opening from her own bed-chamber
and dignified by her mother by the title of * the studio ; ' but this
morning she remained below stairs, with a book in her hand —
ivhich she did not read — and with the fatal newspaper on her
BREAKING IT. 223
knees. She had known ]\Ir. Pennicuick as a child knows her
father's friend who is not her own friend. She had had a vague
dislike and distrust of him, either instinctive, or engendered by
her mother's views of the man, but she had never hated him — his
relationship to Raymond, if not his intimacy with her father, had
forbidden that — nor did she fear him, for it was not in her nature
to fear. Others there were, however, as she was well aware, who
feared him ; and, mingled with her horror at what had happened,
she experienced a sort of wonder (which would have flattered him)
that so masterful a man should so ignobly perish — should have
been put to death by such despicable creatures as she understood
the Chinese to be.
She was still plunged in these conflicting and uncanny
thoughts, when a footstep that she well knew was heard on the
flags outside ; the little gate swung back upon its hinges, pushed
by an impatient hand, and then the visitor sprang up the steps of
the front door. There was no need for her to look out of window.
It was Eaymond Pennicuick — come to tell her of the misfortune
that had befallen him. That would have been bad enough. But
when she heard his eager voice, inquiring whether they were at
home, she knew that a worse thing awaited her. He did not as
yet know what had happened, and she would have to tell him.
Her mother from the next apartment heard him likewise, and drew
the same conclusion. It was hard on her daughter that she should
be left to break such news, but she felt herself to be physically
unequal to such a task, or even to move from her present position.
There was nothing for her but to lie where she was — and listen ;
for every word spoken aloud in the next room was audible.
' Why, Nelly dear, this is a happy chance ! I thought by
224 ^y PROXY.
this hour you would have been engaged on some immortal work
upstairs, and that the greatest interest would be necessary to gain
speech with you. But, what is the matter ? '
' Nothing, Ray — at least, there is ' she cast her eyes down at
the newspaper, in hopes that he would guess that it was there her
sorrow lay ; but he quite misunderstood the cause of her gravity,
' I am afraid you are still annoyed with me, Nelly ; you are
apprehensive I shall resume the subject upon which I spoke to
you last week. You need not fear it. I have written to my
father to express my fixed intentions regarding you. I have said
my happiness is only to be found in your love. But in the mean
time, we are to be as brother and sister. Is it not so ? ' He spoke
with such volubility that slie had not the power to interrupt him.
The very pitifulness in her sweet face doubtless led him on.
' You must not reckon upon your father, dear Raymond, she
faltered out, ' for anything ; for alas ! you have no father.'
' Ah, that comes from your mother's view of him,' replied he
impatiently ; ' she thinks the governor an unnatural parent, which
would be rather hard lines upon him, if he were affected by it.
She believes he thinks too much of No. 1, but who doesn't? He
has, no doubt, a will of his own ; but it is not immutable ; and
if anybody can move it, it will be surely you. I think if he saw
you pleading for us '
' You do not understand, dear Raymond ; your father will
never see either of us again ; at least, if this report be true — which
may not be the case — ' here she put the newspaper into his hand ;
' there ia still a hope that it may be mere rumour : and the Chinese
' Good God ! ' exclaimed Raymond in a low suppressed tone.
BREAKING IT. 225
He had read the telegram, and stood like one transfixed. ' My
poor, poor father I '
Xelly had run to the sideboard, and from the cellaret produced
a glass of sherry. Some girls would have sought to com-
fort their lover in another way, and dearly would she have liked
to do so ; but would not that have been to take advantage of him
for her own benefit ? She could let him see how sorry she was for
him without that.
'There is no telegraph, Eaymond, from Shanghae, whence this
report has come, to Hong Kong : there is an error as to your
fathers name and profession, and the whole thing may be there-
fore a mistake.' She did not think it was, but she knew that such
an idea would help to break the blow to him.
'It is possible,' said Eaymond slowly ; 'yet I feel the news is
true. What does your mother think about it ? I should have
more confidence in her judgment than in my own in such a
"While thev still stood too^ether, but not touching; one another
— he had put his arm half round her waist and then withdrawn it,
because to be happy at such a moment seemed a sin to him — Mrs.
' This is a bad blow to you, my dear Raymond,' said she
He took her hand, but without his usual cordiality. Though
he had expressed a wish for her opinion, her presence was, in fact,
imwelcome to him, for had she not been his father's foe ?
' I feel it, Mrs. Conway, very deeply.'
' I am sure you do, because you are a good son.' She felt she
was paying a compliment to him at the expense of the dead man ;
VOL. I. Q
226 BY PROXY.
but she could think of nothing more appropriate to say : she was
a woman who never told a lie to mitigate matters, though she had,
at least on one occasion in her life, omitted for that reason to tell
' You have nothing to reproach yourself with for your conduct
to your father, which is what few sons can say.'
' I am thinking of him, and not of myself,' replied Kaymond
coldly. ' What is your opinion about this telegram ? Do you
think it is really true ? '
' I am afraid it is so. At least, I have no reason to doubt it.'
' But the thing may be exaggerated ; my father may have got
into trouble with the natives, and be in prison, and yet not '
he hesitated — he could not say, ' and yet not dead.'
' The telegram says, " His companion has arrived at Shanghae,"
observed Mrs. Conway gravely ; ' my husband would never have
left him in such a plight as you suggest.'
There was neither pride nor affection in her tone ; but she
spoke as one who is stating an undeniable fact : and yet she
seemed to repent of having even thus far borne witness to her hus-
band's virtues, for she added significantly, ' No one ever accused
Arthur Conway of not sticking to his friends'
Nelly knew very well that this remark had a suppressed
antithesis with respect to her mother herself, and she showed her
consciousness of it by a pained look.
Eaymond only understood that a hope had been rudely dis-
' I think I will go home,' said he, rising slowly from his seat.
'I should have thought you would have found more com-
fort here, Eaymond, among your old friends, at a time like
BREAKING IT. 227
this,' observed Mrs. Conway reproachfully, ' than in your solitary
Raymond shook his head, and, looking mechanically towards
Nelly, answered sadly,
' You are right, Mrs. Conway ; but I am right too. I shall go
back to town, and telegraph to Hong Kong at once for confirma-
tion or otherwise of this evil news. In the mean time, Grod bless
you both I '
He shook hands cordially with the women, and in the same
way with each. There was a lingering pressure of the fingers
(usual with him in Nelly's case), that is the hall-mark of Love,
and distinguishes it from that other precious metal. Friendship ;
but his thoughts were (or he strove his best to keep them so) upon
his father's unhappy fate, and his own bereavement.
' There must have been something good about Mr. Pennicuick,
after all,' observed Nelly, when the young man had gone, 'or his
loss would not excite such genuine sorrow even in a son.'
' Eobespierre had a landlord, who wept for him when he was
guillotined, answered Mrs. Conway drily. ' And besides, Eaymond
mourns because it is his duty to do so.'
2 28 BY PROXY.
When Eaymond got back to London, he found the town alive
to the misfortune that had happened to him. ' Outrage on an
Englishman in China ; ' ' An English gentleman put to death by the
Chinese ; ' ' A casus belli with China,' formed the great attrac-
tion of the contents of the day's papers, and was posted up on the
hoardings, and exposed in the largest print at the corners of the
streets. He averted his eyes from these advertisements of his
sorrow as much as he could, and yet they had a certain fascina-
tion for him ; nor could he resist buying an evening paper, which
promised ' further particulars ' of the catastrophe. He took it up
with him to his chambers, and opened it with a feverish expecta-
tion he could scarcely have explained. It was to the last degree
improbable that any such details could have come to hand ; nor
was any newspaper editor likely to be a better judge of the au-
thenticity of the telegram than the Conways or himself. The
journal in question, however, took the truth of the news for
granted, and merely used it as a peg whereon to hang one of
those social or personal paragraphs which are now so common.
' Tlie lamented and untimely fate of our fellow-countryman in
VICE VERSA. 229
China ' was the excuse for half a column of biography. There
were very few facts in it, but the mistake as to the victim being a
military man was corrected. He was spoken of as being well-
known in Club circles, and as having at one time given promise of
a political career. His abilities were described as ' remarkable,'
and, of course, he was ' universally respected.' He had left be-
hind him a son, who was still a minor, but who would succeed to
the very considerable property of the deceased.
That last sentence gave a pang to the heir, which would pro-
bably have been incomprehensible to the man who wrote it. ' I am
rich, I am free to marry the girl of my choice,' thought Raymond,
* thanks to the murderers of my father.' He had no doubt that
' the natives ' had killed him — probably in some barbarous and
shocking fashion — without the pretence of justice.
\Mien Beaumont came up that evening to condole with him
on his loss, Raymond felb that it was in fact to congratulate him.
The advantages he derived from his father's misfortune were, for the
time, almost abhorrent to him. This did not arise from remorse — from
liis ever having speculated upon such an event in his own mind
— but it did partly arise from the circumstance that others had so
speculated. He knew that Mrs. Conway had — for one : the pity
that she had often expressed for him by reason of his father's neg-
lect, or of his niggardliness with respect to money, recurred to him
now with exceeding bitterness. He was one of that rare class
who, however they have knocked about in the world, retain their
He had sent a telegram to his father's bankers at Hong Kong,
demanding an immediate reply ; but he did not know when that
might be expected ; nor did he entertain much hope of its contra-
23© BY PROXY.
dictiDg the previous despatch in any important particular. There
was nothing for him but to sit at home and wait.
In the mean time, he was not without visitors. Many came
to see him in his trouble ; in part, perhaps, because it was of that
sort which ends in material prosperity, but not a few out of genuine
regard, for Eaymond was very popular. Among others came the
family lawyer, whom, since his errand was one of business, he re-
ceived with but scanty welcome. In talking of his late father's
affairs, he experienced much the same feeling as he would have
done in taking his father's purse from his pocket after death : nay,
it was even worse, since he was not certain that he of whose effects
he was thus in a manner taking possession was actually deceased.
However, as the lawyer bluntly said, Eaymond's attention to such
matters could not affect the fact one v/ay or the other, and he felt
it his duty to put him into possession of certain particulars.
There were responsibilities of a delicate nature which he shrank
from continuing to undertake without consultation with the dead
man's heir, although he was still in his legal infancy. These were
by no means satisfactory in a moral point of view ; but what,
perhaps, gave the young man greater pain, was the revelation of his
father's wealth. It seemed impossible that the reasons that had
been advanced to him from time to time for the necessity for
economy could have been founded on fact ; and if not, they were
mere excuses for parsimonious conduct. In particular, there was a
sum of no less than 20,000^. in a separate investment, of which
Eaymond had never so much as heard : and it was the knowledge
of this fact, no doubt, that led Ealph Pennicuick to name that pre-
cise amount as what he was willing to pay to the Chinese authori-
ties by way of bribe, when lie was first thrown into prison.
VICE VERSA. 231
It is common enough, alas I that sorrow for our dead finds
mitigation in the revelation of the mourned one's unworthiness :
and something of this sort began unconsciously to affect Raymond's
mind. He still felt a poignant pity and regret for his father's
fate, but the burden of his grief was lightened, and after a while
bis thoughts grew free to roam in other directions, and the first
object towards which they tm^ned was Xelly. His heart was
heavy, but he had a right, like other mourners, to look for comfort ;
and where was it to be found, if not in the companionship of the
girl he loved ?
Nearly a fortnight had now elapsed since he had tele-
graphed to the bankers at Hong Kong, and their silence could be
taken as nothing less than a corroboration of the original de-
spatch. It was become only a question of time when he should
leave his seclusion and seek consolation from the quarter to which
he naturally looked for it. He had heard nothing from Richmond
since his visit, and one evening he took up his pen, and wrote to
Mrs. Conway that he should call upon her on the ensuing day.
That night he had happy dreams, and woke in the morning, for the
first time since he had received intelligence of his calamity, without
any sense of its oppression. How could it be otherwise, when the
morning was to be devoted to his tale of love, and when he knew
how willing to listen would be that ear into which he was to pour it ?
He had breakfasted, and was about to ^tart, when his clerk
brought in a telegram. The colour of its envelope at once informed
him that it was not a message of the ordinary kind. It was doubt-
less the long-expected reply from China. Then for a moment all
his old feelings of regret and pain recurred to him. He almost
experienced a remorse for tlie errand on which he wns about to s^art
232 BY PROXY.
as he stood with the document in his hand, which he knew would
be the corroboration of his bereavement. With a sigh he opened
the envelope — and then sat down, aghast, struck with a wild as-
tonishment at the first words ! ' From Ealph Pennicuick, Hong
Kong, to Raymond Pennicuick, Lincoln's Inn, London.' So ran
the words. There was no doubt about it. His father was alive,
and had himself sent the message. For a moment he could read
no further, overcome with an amazement that was perhaps not all
delight. Then he read on : ' Conway killed by Chinese in revenge
for insult to an idol. Break the news to family. I start for Eng-
land by to-morrow's steamer.'
Conway dead : Nelly's father dead : and he, Eaymond, com-
missioned to break the news to her ! It was terrible — for the mo-
ment it even seemed more terrible than the news she had broken
to him. The horror of it was enhanced by its contrast with the
words he had had in his mind to tell her — and which now perhaps
would never be told. In his own case there had been some hope —
indeed, the hope had been since realised ; but in the present
matter there could be none. The tidings had come from the only
man who was cognisant of what had happened, who had perhaps
even seen the catastrophe with his own eyes — the survivor.
Eaymond Pennicuick had a very tender heart ; one of the