certain ; the question had become one of ' how soon ' only. But
from this last height of assurance his fall had been as severe as it
was sudden. All the objections of his father had once again pre-
sented themselves to his mind, accompanied with a certain preju-
dice of the force of which he had not taken much account. He
had long understood that Mrs. Conway and his father were
antagonistic ; so much so, that he and the Captain could hardly
have been such close friends had the pillars of domestic peace
276 BY PROXY.
at home been unshaken; but he had thought this enmity lay
mainly on the lady's side — was one of those unreasoning prejudices
which women so often entertain, and which in her case amounted
to mania. But now he had begun to think this hate was recipro-
■cated. The terms of his father's telegram occurred to him again
and again, and always with a renewed impression of hardness and
antagonism. 'Conway killed by Chinese. Break the news to
family.' The curtness of it almost bordered upon cruelty. In-
deed, to his morbid apprehension, it seemed to have been couched
purposely in that hard style, not to save a few sovereigns — which
liad probably been his father's chief motive — but to express a fixed
hostility. And at the back of all this there was the ominous
silence of Nelly herself for the last five weeks.
Thus it was that with no high-wrought expectation Kaymond
saw the boudoir door open, and reveal the girl he loved by the side
of his hostess. That she smiled upon him, and shook his hand so
frankly, were no longer the good omens he would have taken them
for a while ago ; if she had hung back and looked embarrassed or
even sorrowful, he would have liked it better, for these friendly
signs might well belong to that role of 'sister' which she had
already announced her intention of playing.
' I shall leave you young people together to make your own
explanations,' said Mrs. Wardlaw. ' I suppose you have no objection
to be left alone with him, Nelly ? '
This was by no means said in a light vein. She understood
that there was a kink in the cable of true love, so serious that
electric communication was suspended; and she was not sure
whether a private interview with Kaymond would at present be
agreeable to the girl.
A BITTER TRIAL. 277
'I have certainly no objection,' said Xelly gTavely. 'WTiy
should I have ? '
The question was addressed to ^Irs. Wardlaw, as she left the
room, but Raymond replied to it.
' I know not why, indeed, Nelly ; but it does seem as though
you did entertain objections to see me. Do you know it is five
weeks since we met last ? '
' I know it is a long time, Eaymond ; I have felt it to be very
long, believe me.'
' You would have seen me, then, if the choice had lain with
yourself?' said Raymond eagerly.
' Yes, I think so. I would not so long have delayed the — the
explanation, as ]Mrs. Wardlaw calls it, between us, — which must
needs have come sooner or later. Matters are not as they were,
Raymond, when you and I spoke to one another' — she hesitated,
and a faint flush overspread her cheek— ' that afternoon in the
garden. They were not favoiu-able to the wish you were so good
as to express, even then ; I did not even then share the hope that
you entertained '
' But you shared the wish,' put in Raymond pleadingly ;
' whatever you are going to say, at least do not retract yom* own
' I deny that I confessed to you anything, Raymond ; and I
am sure you are not so cruel as to put me to the question now.
As things stood at that time, I repeat, the probability of what you
desired being accomplished was very small. It has now dwindled
^ Who says that ? who has a right to say it ? ' inquired Raymond
278 BY PROXY.
' I say it, Raymond ; I who have a right above all others to
speak upon this matter, since my life — or the peace of my life —
depends upon it. These are selfish words, you may say ; Heaven
knows that they are not so : but you are welcome to believe them
selfish. If my mother and I were but poor, and my father were
yet alive to be a bond in some sort between your father and our-
selves, your love for me would be likely to meet with opposition from
him ; how, think you, would he regard it now, when we are not
only poor but penniless, and the tie — slender at best — is snapped
that bound him to us ! '
* There is at least a hope,' urged Raymond ; ' why stifle it ? '
' No, Raymond, there is no hope ; and even if there were, that
is, even if your father could be induced to give his consent, and to
make you some allowance such as would be fitting — you understand,
I hope, that I am speaking of your position, not of mine — I say,
even then I doubt whether my mother would permit me to accept
his bounty. It may be prejudice ; but it is no use to combat it,
and she is my mother, the only being to whom my duty is now
'Yet love is duty too, dear Nelly,' pleaded Raymond; 'and
though to my sole parent I also owe obedience, and have never
shrunk from paying it, yet, in this case, I claim to be my own
master ; no man, not even a father, has a right to destroy the
happiness of another. If I had anything — were it but enough to
buy food and clothing and a roof to cover us — of my own, I would
work, I would slave for you till better times, and in the mean while
our poverty would be happiness. But since. Heaven help me ! I
have nothing certain — I cannot, I dare not, ask you to run a risk
A BITTER TRIAL. 279
He spoke with vehemence, and trembled as he spoke, moved
with o'ermastering love. Xelly trembled too; for had he but
known it, she was on the very verge of passion's giddy height,
while he thus held out his arms to her.
Her mother, as will be remembered, had informed her that
Eaymond would have an income of his own — though he was him-
self unaware of it — when he should come of age. If be had known
it, how vehemently would he have m-ged his suit I When he
should come to know it, how quickly would he renew his appeal I
It was the foreknowledge of this that had caused her to lay such
weight upon her mother's prejudice against his father, though
indeed it had weight enough of its own. In her mother's present
temper — and it was to the_last degTee unlikely that it would suffer
mitigation — an alliance with Raymond, if it included the permis-
sion of the elder Pennicuick, would mean a practical separation
from her remaining parent. The question that Eaymond had put,
•' Had anyone a right, even a parent, for a mere personal whim, to
destroy tiie happiness of her offspring?' had at least as great a
force with her as with himself. Indeed, it had a greater, for her
disposition was less dependent, though not less filial. She knew
how her heart would make common cause with his, when he should
say, ' I am free to marry you ; I have enough for both, though not
to spare. Let us be happy.' But in accepting him she felt that
she would be destroying for him all that is included in what the
world calls prospects. Thanks to her, he would be a poor man all
his life, and alienated from the father to whom he had hitherto
been an exemplary son. Had she a right to force him to this
sacrifice, because she loved him ? or was it not because she loved him
that she ought to save him from himself — from the results of his
28o BY PROXY.
own generous passion ? The answer was plain to her ; and it must
be given him now — at once — while his strongest arguments could
not be urged against her. Yet every word she was about to use
would be a dagger-thrust in her own breast.
' Eaymond,' she said, ' there was no need to speak as you have
spoken ; I know your nature to its core. There is no man whom I
esteem so much, or ever will be, or for whom I would do more than
I would for you ; but the one thing I will not do, so help me
Heaven ! is to consent to your own ruin. Listen to me, for what I
say will never be recalled or altered. If you find it impossible to
keep the word you passed to me six weeks ago, and behave to me
as a dear friend and brother, I will not see you again. I have
suffered — well, no matter what — from your absence from us during
our late calamity. When the heart is sorrowful and very heavy,
it yearns for friendship, and the more when it has but one or two
friends. But I can bear your absence for ever, better than a repeti-
tion of such scenes as these. If you speak to me of love again, Eay«^
mond — it wounds me to the quick to say so, but I mean it — then
speech between us two will be over ; you will have spoken to me
for the last time.'
' The last time I ' echoed the young man, like one who cannot
believe his ears. ' She will have spoken to me for the last time ! '
' Such is my fixed and positive resolve — a harsh one, you will
say, but even harshness is sometimes necessary to secure obedience.
Upon one side stand you and your love ; upon the other — forgive
me for speaking of them as antagonistic, for it needs must be
so — stand myself and my future. My mother and I are absolutely,
as I understand, without resources, and from henceforward we shall
both be dependent for the means of existence upon my personal
A BITTER TRIAL. 281
exertions. I shall need all my wits, all my courage, all my strength^
for this battle of life, for which I shall be armed with but a poor
pencil and paint-brush. Do you not see, dear Kaymond, how
necessary it will be for me to be at least in freedom ? If, in addition
to what is required of me, I am tied and bound to you, by an engage-
ment however contingent upon circumstances, how is it possible
that I can be my own mistress ? All my thoughts and all my time
will be bespoken by the work before me ; I could not afford — to
put the matter on its lowest ground, but still upon a high one,.
since another will be dependent on me — to have my mind disturbed
by hopes so tender.'
' But other girls, dear Nelly,' pleaded Eaymond, ' find strength
and motive in such hopes.'
' Then I am not as other girls, or at least,' she added hastily^
' the circumstances in which I am placed compel me to be different..
1 know what is good for you, Eaymond, and what is possible for
me. Pray understand that I am resolute about this matter. You
must promise me to be henceforth as my brother only, or we must
be strangers altogether.'
' But if my father does consent to our marriage, and gives u&
fitting means, and if your mother should abate her unreasonable
prejudices, in that case at least, darling, you will promise to be
mine ? '
' I will promise nothing, Raymond,' answered the girl vehe-
mently. ' It is cruel of you to demand it. What you ask i&
nothing less than a confession of love from one who has forbidden
you to speak of love. If I should answer " yes," I should be bound
to you as though all those impossible events of which you speak had
actually taken place. It is not my wish to be so fettered, and still
282 BY PROXY.
less so to fetter you. You are a free man, to marry whom you
Raymond shook his head with a sad smile, but she went on
without regarding it. ' And I also am free to begin my new life of
labour — not in happiness indeed, but at least without the distrac-
tion and distress of groundless hope. Here is my hand, Raymond,
a hand that has work to do in the world.'
Raymond took her hand, surely the whitest and tiniest that ever
had to do with work, and pressed it in both his own.
' Grood-bye — sister,' said he, tenderly.
' Grood-bye — brother,' answered she firmly.
' But I thought brothers and sisters always kissed one another,
The innocent simplicity of tlie young rascal's tone would have
made his fortune in a stage play.
' I don't think that is necessary,' said she, turning very white.
' Then I won t ask it,' replied he with gravity, as he opened the
door for her, and bowed her out.
Lover though he was, he was secretly delighted that she had
not kissed him ; for it seemed somehow to signify that she was not
quite prepared to play her part in the new relations she had her-
self established between them.
Nelly made no attempt to see her hostess, but started for
home at once ; she had done her duty — or what she believed to be
her duty — and in doing it had shown, as she flattered herself, no
sign of weakness ; but it had in fact cost her very dearly. Her
comfort was that it had been in truth for Raymond's sake, and not
her own, that she had given him up : but it was but cold comfort.
Light as her frame was, her limbs trembled under it, as she took her
A BITTER TRIAL. 283
solitary way, and she felt depressed in mind as she was weak in
body. The work before her in the world had seemed pleasant
enough when it had been play, but it had had but small attraction
for her in itself. Toil without pleasure, life without love, seemed
henceforward to be her lot.
By the time she reached home, she had summoned up a smile
to meet her mother, but it was a relief to her to learn that she had
retired to her own room, ' not wishing to be disturbed for an hour
or so,' as the servant said. She threw herself on the sofa in the
little drawing-room, and saying to herself, ' I will be strong and
patient,' burst into tears ; they were very bitter tears, but they did
her good. The first thing she noticed, when the last had been
shed, and she had dried her eyes, was that there was a space upon
the wall where her father's picture had been wont to hang. She
understood at once that her mother had taken it upstairs with her,
and^also that it was a tacit confession on her part that she was
284 BY PROXY.
As the time drew on for the return of his father from China.
Raymond Pennicuick began to be greatly excited, and so strangely
that the state of his feelings was unintelligible even to himself.
That he was pleased to be about to see the parent whom he had
mourned as dead, alive and well, he took for granted ; but some-
thing so very bitter was mixed with his cup of happiness, that
the result was an ill flavour. It was not only that Captain Conway
was dead, or had met his death under circumstances that must
needs have been horrible and distressing, though of their precise
nature he had not been as yet informed ; but the consequences
that had resulted from the false telegram oppressed him in various
ways. It had been terrible to hear that his father was no more ; but
it was also terrible to find that his own marriage with Nelly, which
that sad circumstance had seemed to ensure, was now farther off
than ever. Nelly, indeed, as we have seen, thought it so out of
all human probability, that she had forbidden the subject to be
alluded to, and professed to have banished hope itself. And finally,,
there were those revelations of the family lawyer, which that
gentleman probably regretted as much as Raymond himself did.
Raymond had, of course, suspected much of what he was now
compelled to know, but he had always given his father the benefit
of all doubts, and this dutiful charity was no longer possible.
The secrets he had thus incidentally learnt were not, indeed, crimes :
they were only what society smiles at as peccadilloes ; but there
were certain pecuniary arrangements in connection ^vith them,
which made it necessary he should be acquainted with these
matters, that he could not but regard as mean. And those arrange-
Luents had, of course, been made by his father himself. It was
most unfortunate that he should have become possessed of such
particulars at the very time when the springs of duty were some-
.vhat dry, and he had most need of his filial respect. And yet — so
'oyal was the young fellow's nature — the less he respected,
:he more he felt compelled to obey his father. He had portrayed
ro himself that scene of amval at Southampton : the sight of the
.'essel as it neared the docks, the meeting on the deck, the tete-
\-tete dinner at the ' Sun ; ' but, as it happened, these pictures
turned out, as such so often do, but so many mental mirages —
illusions of anticipation. Eaymond got a telegram from his father
from Cairo, in his usual concise style : ' Shall be at my rooms in
he Albany on the 14th to dinner.' It was clear by the date that he
vas coming overland, which was rather surprising. Ralph Pennicuick
:iever spent money extravagantly, unless to give himself pleasure,
iiid a sea voyage had been hitherto always preferable in his eyes
ro a journey by railway. Raymond did not flatter himself that
ohis haste could be caused by a desire on the traveller's part to
clasp his only son in his arms, but he did venture to hope that it
night be owing to some consideration for the Conways. His
■ather must know how the widow and orphan yearned to hear
particulars concerning their lost one ; not, indeed, the details of
286 BY PROXY.
his decease, which, on the contrary, it would be well to spare
them, but how he looked and spoke in those last hours, and what
fond farewells he might have sent them. It was important, too,
for them to know as early as possible of what worldly goods (if
any, alas !) he had died possessed.
On the day and near the hour appointed, Eaymond turned his
steps to his father's chambers. He had been there more than
once of late to see that everything was in order for his arrival — a
work of some supererogation, since Mr. Pennicuick's valet, Hatton,
was already installed there, who had a keen eye for his business,
sharpened by twenty years' experience of his master's ways. Most
men of fortune, when they go abroad, take their body-servants
with them ; but, in this case, the master, though bent on pleasure,
had always a frugal mind. He allowed the man a certain sum,
which did not, however, amount to the board wages usually de-
manded by gentlemen's gentlemen, and, to use his own expression,
let him ' run loose.' It was like turning a horse out to grass when
you have no present use for him. And Hatton was of such a
patient and contented nature — or seemed to be so — that he never
missed his corn. It was wonderful how well, considering Pennicuick's
harsh and overbearing character, master and man got on together;
and though opportunities were by no means wanting to the latter
to ' better himself in other situations, he stuck where he was. If
Ralph Pennicuick happened to say some morning, as he poured,
himself out his cup of coffee, ' I am going to Egypt this afternoon ;
put my things to-rights here, and give the key of my rooms to
the porter,' Hatton only replied, ' Very good, sir.' If the master
chose to name the date of his return, the man was always sure to
be at his post a day or two beforehand ; and if otherwise, Mr.
Hatton was always ' to be heard of ' at the ' Coach and Horses,
Grroom Street.' Whether he was Jew or Christian, married or
single, his master never inquired and never knew. I was once
acquainted with a very stately and perfect butler who left his
situation Cand quite right too) because his employer evinced no
sympathy with him : ' I ain't 'ad a word o' kindness, my lady,'
said he, ' since I 'a bin in your service, and it's love, it's love, it's
love, as makes the world go round.' But Mr. Hatton was not of
this sentimental nature. Grreat confidence, however, was reposed
in him by his master — so much so, that people used to express their
astonishment at it ; but Ralph Pennicuick was one who would
soon have discovered if he was being robbed, and would certainly
not have hesitated to prosecute the offender to the bitter end.
Hatton was a wiry little fellow, of middle age, who only by the
most scrupulous care could prevent himself from appearing ' horsey ;*
but as it was, he looked the quiet impassive confidential valet to
perfection. He was always very civil to Raymond, but not without
a touch of patronage ; and I am afraid he did not think very highly
of his intelligence. ' The young un runs wonderful well in harness
with his governor, considering,' he would remark to his intimates,
' but they ain't anything of a match. One is a couple of hands
higher than the other in point of wits.'
From the terms of which frank criticism it must not be hastily
concluded that Mr. Hatton was (while on service) otherwise than
polished, grave, and reticent.
Mr. Pennicuick's chambers in the Albany were on the first
floor, and in that portion of the building which, if you did not
know in how fashionable a spot you stood, and also if it were but a
trifle cleaner, you might take for a model prison. It seems as
288 BY PROXY.
though, posted in the upper gallery, an intelligent warder might
observe all that came and went, and all that was done in the great
•echoing place ; in which case he would have needed to be a warder
•of philosophic temperament, and who would not have minded
sitting up occasionally very far into the small hours.
Like all the rest, the chambers in question were guarded by
double doors, and when the outside one was closed, or ' sported ' as
it is termed at college, it not only said ' not at home,' but meant
it. The inmate might be within, but there was no means of dis-
turbing him at his devotions, or any other private pursuit in
■which he might be engaged. To be sure, in some instances, as in
this case, there was a little staircase within, leading to the valet's
room, but it was as much as that gentleman's gentleman's place
was worth to go out or in at unseasonable times. When the
master would be private, the man was himself in quarantine.
The outer door was now open, and the inner, with its smart
little brass knocker and bell handle (the bell of which, as in a
stage play, tinkled immediately on the other side), presented itself
to Eaymond ; but this he set down to the fact of Hatton's presence.
He had rarely been more astonished than he was when, in answer to
his summons, the man appeared, and, with a voice unusually grave
and low, observed :
' Master is come, sir.'
' What ! my father here already ! ' said Eaymond.
' Yes, indeed, sir, more than two hours ago : he almost took
mie by surprise,' — by which Mr. Hatton meant to express the very
-extremity of the unforeseen. Then he added, in a little lower tone
^ You will see a great alteration in him, Mr. Raymond.'
' Indeed ! Does he not look well ? '
RE2 URNED. 289
' Well, it is not only that ; he looks altogether out of conditiou.
He's been shuck, sir, you may depend upon it, sadly shuck.' And
Mr. Hatton put his finger significantly (but very deferentially) to
his nose, to express that that opinion was a confidential com-
' I daresay he is tired with his long journey, Hatton,' answered
the young fellow ; and the next moment he was ushered into the
For an instant Eaymond hardly knew his father, so grizzled
had the black beard become, and so shiTinken was the sunburnt
face on which it grew. The eyes in particular had a wavering
and indecisive look which he had never seen in them before. The
whole appearance of the man suggested not only fatigue but
* Well, Eaymond, my boy, how are you ? ' The voice even
was changed ; it had lost its habitual coldness ; and if not genial,
was at least conciliatory. Its tone, joined with his father's looks,
at once went to Raymond's heart.
' I am very glad to see you home, sir, though sorry for the
cause that has cut short your travel. You must have come very
fast, without giving yourself much time for rest, I fear.'
' What, 1 look fagged, do I ? Well, that is like enough.
The heat on the voyage was frightful ; after that cursed steamer
even the railway carriage seemed like paradise ; and when I got in
it, I stopped there and came right on.'
* I am sure you must want rest and quiet, and you will find it
here. Everybody is out of London.'
' Ah, I suppose so ; the men are gone to the moors, and the
VOL, I. M
90 BY PROXY.
women after them. What is your news? — remember, I know
' Well, sir, I have not been much interested of late in public
matters, the tidings from yourself and about yourself having mono-
polised my attention.'
' About myself? What do you mean ? '
Ealph had been standing at the open window, with his eyes
fixed on the flower-box that stood in it ; but now he turned them
sharply on his son.
' I mean the telegram that came by mistake, and for some time
was of course believed, that the catastrophe which befell poor
Captain Conway '
'Ah, had happened to me,' interrupted Ealph Pennicuick
indifferently. ' To be sure, I had forgotten that. I must seem