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that he had been deeply touched by the beauty of the Duchess, and it
is not unlikely that, if Arthur Temple had not stepped forward, he
would have taken upon himself the task of rescuing her from the
clutches of an unscrupulous villain.

While he was engaged in these reflections, Arthur Temple paced the
room excitedly.

"She must be saved, Richards. There is a mystery here which it has
fallen to my lot to clear up. Your story being true, this man has
imposed upon me as well as robbed me. He told me, before I engaged him
to accompany me to England, that there was a woman at home whom he had
loved for years, and to see whom would complete the happiness of his
life. The trickster! As for the money, let it go. But his villainy to
an innocent girl shall not escape punishment. Once again, will you
assist me, or must I work alone?"

Richards adopted the chivalrous course; partly for the reasons already
given, and partly because of the excitement it would afford.

"I will assist you, sir," he said.




CHAPTER XXIX.


Ned Chester fulfilled the promise he gave to the Duchess that he would
see Mrs. Lenoir safely to her home. When the exhausted woman recovered
from her fainting condition and was sufficiently strong to lean on his
arm and walk slowly along, he said to her:

"You may thank your stars I was near you when you fell. I am going to
help you home. Where do you live?"

The strange voice and the rough manner of the man - for Ned was not
always on his holiday behaviour, and the worse side of his nature
invariably exhibited itself when there was nothing to be
gained - caused Mrs. Lenoir to shrink from him; but, deprived of his
support, she almost fell to the ground again.

"Don't be a fool!" cried Ned; "you are not strong enough to stand
alone. Where do you live?"

"Who are you?"

"I am a gentleman," he replied, in a boastful tone.

His manner gave the lie to his assertion, and Mrs. Lenoir, with her
fine instinct, knew that the man was a braggart. "Yes, yes - but your
name?"

"Never mind my name - it won't enlighten you. Now, are you coming?"

"No," said Mrs. Lenoir; "leave me."

"What will you do if I take you at your word?" he asked brutally.

"I will wait here - I will creep on till I find _her_ - till I see again
the face I saw a little while ago, bending over me. Heaven will give
me strength - Heaven will give me strength!"

"In which case," thought Ned, "I shall get myself into hot water with
the Duchess. That will never do."

He adopted a more conciliatory tone.

"You foolish creature! You've been dreaming, and you'll bring trouble
on yourself."

"Dreaming!" murmured Mrs. Lenoir, pressing her hands to her head. "For
mercy's sake, do not tell me so! Nay, but it is not true. Let me
think - let me think. No - it was not a dream. I followed her and her
companion for miles through the snow, till my strength was gone. But
it has come again," she said, with hysterical sobs, which she
struggled with and checked; "it has come again, and I can go on. As I
lay on the ground I saw her face - the face I have dreamt of for many
weary years - bending over me!"

"It was my face you saw," said Ned, beginning to think that the woman
was mad.

"No, no," said Mrs. Lenoir, with a wan smile, "it was the face of a
lovely girl."

Ned's vanity and triumph in his conquest trapped him.

"She _has_ a lovely face, has she not?"

"It was no dream, then," cried Mrs. Lenoir eagerly.

"No; it was no dream. Now, let me help you home. I promised her I
would do so."

"You did!" sobbed Mrs. Lenoir; "she thought of me - and pitied me! Oh,
my heart!"

"You'll be going off again, if you don't mind. I tell you I promised
her, and I must keep my promise."

"Why must you keep your promise?"

Ned's boastful spirit was entirely beyond his control.

"Isn't the reason plain? We love each other. Is that sufficient? If
you will let me help you home, I promise that you shall see her again,
if you would like to."

"It is what I have lived for. You promise me - solemnly!"

"On the honour of a gentleman," said Ned, laying his hand on his
heart. "Will that content you?"

"It must - it shall. You are right - I cannot walk without assistance.
This is my way, I think. And you love her - and she loves you! I shall
see her again! When? It must be soon! It _must_ be soon!"

"It shall be - in a day or two. We are getting along nicely now. Ah,
there's a cab - that's lucky."

He called the cab, and put Mrs. Lenoir in it.

"What street do you live in?"

She told him, and he mounted the box. In less than a quarter of an
hour the cab stopped at her home. Desiring the driver to wait for him,
Ned opened the street-door with the latch key she gave him.

"Shall I help you to your room?" he asked.

"No; stay here in the passage. I will get a light; I want to see your
face."

She crept slowly upstairs. The passage was narrow, and, cold as the
night was, Ned, a strong and sturdy man, took off his light overcoat
and held it on his arm. Presently Mrs. Lenoir returned, with a lighted
candle in her hand.

She raised the candle, and, shading her eyes with her hand, looked
steadily at him. As she gazed into his face, a troubled expression
stole into her own. It was not the face of a man to whom she would
have cared to entrust the happiness of anyone dear to her.

"Well," he exclaimed, nettled at her intent observance of him, "you
will know me again."

"I shall know you again," she said, as he turned from her. "You can
have no objection now to tell me your name."

"Temple - Arthur Temple."

"Great God!"

He did not hear the words, nor did he see the candlestick drop from
her hand, leaving her in darkness. He slammed the street-door behind
him, and, resuming his seat on the cab, drove westwards.

A few minutes afterwards, a lodger coming home to the house in which
Mrs. Lenoir resided, found her lying senseless in the passage. He was
an old man, and had not strength to raise her. Knowing that she was
more intimate with Lizzie than with any other person in the house, he
knocked at the girl's door, and, waking her, told her of Mrs. Lenoir's
condition. Lizzie hurriedly threw on her clothes, and hastened to the
suffering woman. Assisted by the man, she carried her to her room, and
Mrs. Lenoir was soon in bed, attended by the most willing and cheerful
of nurses. The care Lizzie bestowed on her was not bestowed in vain,
and when Mrs. Lenoir opened her eyes, she saw a bright fire burning in
the room, and the girl standing by her bedside, with a cup of hot tea
in her hands. Mrs. Lenoir drank the tea eagerly, and took the bread
and butter which Lizzie's gentle persuasion induced her to eat. Lizzie
asked no questions; she was learning how to manage the strange woman,
whose secret sorrow had made so deep an impression upon her tender
heart.

"You are feeling better, Mrs. Lenoir?"

"Much better and stronger, thank you, Lizzie. You are very kind to me,
my dear."

"If you will let me, I will sleep with you."

Mrs. Lenoir offered no resistance to the proposal, and presently the
girl and the woman were lying side by side.

"Don't mind waking me, Mrs. Lenoir, if you want me."

"No, my dear. Lizzie, you will not betray the confidence I am going to
place in you. It will relieve me to speak it."

"Oh, I can keep a secret, Mrs. Lenoir."

"I believe," said Mrs. Lenoir very slowly, "that I have this night
seen the face of my daughter."

"Then, you have a daughter!" cried Lizzie in a tone of delight.

"A daughter, my dear, whom I have not seen since she was a little
child - and who they told me was dead. But I have seen her - I have seen
her, if there is truth in nature! After all these years I have seen
her - when she most needs a mother's care and counsel. I am praying now
for the hours to pass quickly that I may fold her to my heart."

"Is she coming to you to-morrow, Mrs. Lenoir?"

"There is my misery. She knows nothing of me, and I am in ignorance
where she lives. But I am promised - I am promised! God will help
me - He will surely help me, after my long years of anguish!"

She said not another word, and Lizzie was soon asleep; but Mrs. Lenoir
lay awake through the greater part of the night, with a prayer in her
heart as fervent as any ever whispered to Heaven from the depths of
tribulation. Towards morning, nature asserted her claim, and slumber
fell upon her troubled soul.

It was almost noon when she awoke; and Lizzie was bustling about the
room.

"I am going to stop with you till you're better," said the girl;
"perhaps I can help you. I'll take care not to be in the way if I'm
not wanted."

Mrs. Lenoir accepted the service, feeling the need of it at this
crisis. She was up and dressed, and breakfast was over, when Lizzie's
quick ears took her out of the room. She returned immediately.

"A gentleman is asking for a woman he saw home last night to this
house. It must be you by his description."

"Let him come in, Lizzie."

Lizzie looked at Ned Chester with admiration. In her eyes he was every
inch a gentleman, with his fine clothes, and gold chain, and diamond
ring on his ungloved hand.

"This is Mrs. Lenoir," she said.

"Mrs. Lenoir!" he repeated. "Ah, well, I didn't know the name. Are you
better?"

He had commenced speaking in a free and familiar tone, such as a man
adopts who is addressing one for whom he has no great feeling of
respect, but before he had uttered even these few words his tone
altered. Mrs. Lenoir had taken unusual pains with her dress, and she
presented so different an appearance from that which he expected - she
looked so gentle and lady-like - that he was compelled into a more
deferential and respectful manner.

"I am glad you are come," said Mrs. Lenoir; "I was afraid you might
forget your promise, or that it had been given lightly."

"What promise?" he asked.

"That I should see her again - the young lady who was with you last
night."

"Oh, the Duchess!" he exclaimed involuntarily, and the next moment
biting his lips at the betrayal.

"The Duchess!" echoed Mrs. Lenoir, in amazement.

"A pet name," he said quickly. "You shall see her again, as I
promised. But I have come on a different matter. I lost a silver
cigar-case last night. Have you got it?"

Mrs. Lenoir rose, and gazed at him in perplexity and fear.

"I will swear I had it about me as I assisted you home. When you left
me in the passage I took off my overcoat, and it dropped out of my
pocket perhaps. I don't mean anything worse than that. Did you find
it?"

"I don't understand you; I have not seen it. Lizzie, did you see
anything in the passage when you came down to me last night?"

"No," replied Lizzie, who had listened to the conversation with
intense curiosity.

Ned Chester considered in silence, uncertain for a moment how to act.
The cigar-case, which had been a gift to his master, Arthur Temple,
bore on it an inscription which might betray him, and he thought it
not unlikely that Mrs. Lenoir intended to retain it, so that she might
compel the fulfilment of his promise. There were obvious reasons why
he could not run the risk of making the theft public, for he
entertained no doubt that Mrs. Lenoir had robbed him. Since the
previous night he had had reason to suspect that his position was
growing perilous. His young master's manner had suddenly changed
towards him, and he had almost determined not to return to Mr.
Temple's house. With this partially-formed resolve in view, he had
seen the Duchess a short time before his visit to Mrs. Lenoir, and
proposed flight to her. He had taken good care of himself with respect
to money, and he had about him between five and six hundred pounds.
His scheme was to go to Paris with the Duchess, and thence to America,
where he would be safe, and where he believed his peculiar talents
might prove of service to him. At all events, with ready money at his
command, a few months of enjoyment were before him, and that prospect
was sufficiently alluring. But he had found the Duchess strangely
reluctant to agree to the flight, and he had to use all the
blandishments at his command to prevail upon her. At length she had
yielded, on one condition. She would not accompany him alone, nor
would she go without the society of one of her own sex. An instinct of
affection for Sally had stolen into the Duchess's breast on her
lover's sudden and startling proposition, and she suggested that Sally
should accompany her in her flight. To this he gave a vehement
refusal, and the Duchess fell back on another expedient. In his
boastful moments he had told her that he had confided to some of his
lady relations the secret of his attachment to a poor girl, and that,
charmed with "the romance of the thing," they had promised to assist
in reconciling him with his father, should any discovery take place.
The Duchess, to his annoyance, remembered this, as she remembered
every word he had spoken with reference to himself and his fine
friends; and she stipulated that, as he objected to Sally, one of
these ladies should accompany her. Seeing no way to the accomplishment
of this end, he had argued with her and endeavoured to talk away her
resolution. But the more he argued, the more obstinate the Duchess had
become, and he was compelled to promise that her whim should be
complied with.

"And mind," she said to him before they parted, "your lady friend and
I must go away from London by ourselves. You can meet us in the
country if you like, but when you come we must be together."

With this understanding they had parted an hour before his visit to
Mrs. Lenoir.

As he stood considering these matters in the presence of Mrs. Lenoir,
who, uneasy at the turn the conversation had taken, was waiting
anxiously for him to speak, a happy idea, as he believed it to be,
flashed across his mind. Why should he not come to an understanding
with this woman, whose appearance was so lady-like and whose manners
were so gentle, and palm her off upon the Duchess as one of his lady
friends who had consented to accompany her in her flight? It was not
at all likely that the Duchess, supposing Mrs. Lenoir were well and
fashionably dressed, would recognise in her the woman whose face she
had seen but once, and that but for a moment or two, and in a dim,
uncertain light. Once away from England, and free from the fears of
detection which were beginning to oppress him, he would experience no
difficulty in getting rid of the encumbrance, and pursuing his journey
to America with the Duchess alone. His eyes brightened as he looked
into Mrs. Lenoir's troubled face, and said, with just a glance at
Lizzie:

"I should like to have a few words with you in private."

"Leave us, Lizzie," said Mrs. Lenoir.

With a little toss of her head, indicative of a grudge against the
stranger for depriving her of the means of gratifying her curiosity,
Lizzie left the room.

"Mrs. Lenoir," said Ned, casting about in his mind for the proper
words to use, and quite unconscious that he was the object of a deeper
scrutiny than he had bestowed upon the woman before him; "Mrs.
Lenoir - by the bye, that _is_ your name?"

"Have you reason to doubt it?" enquired Mrs. Lenoir, with quickened
breath.

"No; I only asked out of idle curiosity," adding, with familiar
assurance, "Mrs. Lenoir, you are a poor woman."

Mrs. Lenoir made a motion with her hand, which denoted that the
appearance of her room afforded a sufficient answer to the question.
Her eyes never left his face, as though they were seeking to see the
workings of his mind.

"You need give yourself no uneasiness," proceeded Ned, "about the
cigar-case."

"I know nothing whatever of it."

"I am not implying that you do."

"Of course you are not - as a gentleman speaking to a lady."

"By Jove! that is the way to put it," cried Ned, gratified at this
apparent recognition of his quality. "As a gentleman speaking to a
lady! It is reasonable that I should wish to find it - not for its
value; that is not of the slightest consequence, but because it was a
gift, from my - my - - "

"From your - - "

"From my father. One wishes to keep such presents as those."

"Naturally."

"You don't speak like a common woman - you don't look like one - and you
are just the woman I want."

"Has what you are saying anything to do with the young lady I saw last
night?"

"You have hit it again. It has to do with her. Shall I go on?"

Mrs. Lenoir was keeping a stern control over her feelings. She saw
that the man was acting a part; she saw that he was no gentleman, and
that it behoved her to be careful if she wished to serve the girl who,
without any reason but that born of an almost despairing hope, she
believed to be her child.

"Yes; go on."

"I am going to give you my confidence," he said grandiloquently.

"I am waiting to receive it."

"Well, you know, we are in love with each other."

"You told me so last night."

"But our positions are different. I am a gentleman, and she is - - "

"A lady."

"In one way, a lady; but you see she has been brought up in a common
way, and among common people that it wouldn't do for me to mix with.
My family will be mad enough with me as it is, but I dare say I can
smooth them over after a bit, if I can show them that the girl has
entirely thrown off her old companions and friends."

"What is it you propose to do, then?"

"To run away with her."

Mrs. Lenoir pressed her hand to her heart to still its wild beating;
to her comprehension, quickened as it was by love, the villainy of
this man was clearly unfolding itself; his tone, his words, his
manner, were all betraying him.

"Gentlemen have run away with poor girls before to-day," he said, with
an airy contemplation of the ring on his finger.

"Oh, yes."

"But the little witch refuses to elope unless I provide her with a
lady-companion." A grateful light was in Mrs. Lenoir's eyes, and a
feeling of devout thankfulness in her heart. "Well, now, if you'll
agree to one thing, you shall be that lady-companion."

"I will agree to anything."

"You're a sensible woman. It isn't much to do. You must let the girl
understand that you're a relation of mine - an aunt, say. She has set
her foolish little mind upon it, and it won't do any harm to humour
her. Do you agree?"

"Yes; when shall I see her?"

"The sooner the thing's done the better. I hate shilly-shallying. I'll
send you a message this afternoon, perhaps."

"Had you not better write or come to me?"

"I mayn't be able to come; I'll write. My plan is this: that you and
the young lady shall meet at a railway station, and take a train to
the place I fix upon; I will follow by an after train, and pick you up
in the country."

"That is a good plan," said Mrs. Lenoir, with secret joy at the
opportunity he was affording her of rescuing the girl from the snare
he had laid for her. "I will prepare myself."

"Make yourself presentable; dress like a lady, that's it. Here's some
money - buy what you think you'll want - a fashionable dress and a spicy
bonnet - it will help you to play your part; you've got good taste, I
see." He placed two five-pound notes on the table. "Now I'm off."

"You will not mind my asking you a question," said Mrs. Lenoir, with
lips that quivered, in spite of herself.

"Ask away."

"Has the young lady no mother?"

The words were uttered very slowly. It seemed to her that her life
hung upon his answer.

"Oh, make your mind easy about that! She has no mother - never had
one," with a coarse laugh. "She might be a princess for all that's
known about her. But that's no business of yours."

"No. You will be sure to write to me?"

"Do you think," said Ned, with a significant look at the bank-notes,
"that I'd be such a fool with my money if I didn't mean what I've
said? Not likely! Take care and act the character well - tell her any
stories you like about swell ladies and fine people - she likes to hear
'em. Goodbye, aunty."

With a familiar nod and swagger he passed out of the room.

Almost before Mrs. Lenoir had time to recover her composure, she was
rejoined by Lizzie, whose appearance betokened a state of great
excitement.

"Oh, Mrs. Lenoir," she cried, "Charlie knows him - Charlie knows him!"

"Knows whom?"

"The gentleman who has just gone out. Charlie ran round in his dinner
hour to see me, and we were talking together in the passage when the
gentleman passed. Charlie knew him directly, although it's years since
he saw him, and although Charlie was only a boy at the time. His
name's Chester - Ned Chester."

"Lizzie, you are lifting a great weight from my heart. He gave me
another name. Are you sure Charlie is right?"

"Am I sure?" repeated Lizzie, with a saucy toss of her head. "Charlie
is never wrong."

"Is Charlie downstairs?"

"No, he has gone back to work."

"Lizzie, will you help me if it is in your power?"

"Ah, that I will - gladly!"

"I have a presentiment that a great crisis in my life is approaching.
I must not stir out of the house; I am waiting for a letter." She took
her purse from her pocket, and counted the money in it; there were
altogether but a very few shillings. "I want money, Lizzie," she said,
casting her eyes rapidly around, and collecting all the small articles
in the room upon which money could be raised. She retained but one
article of value - a miniature of herself, set in a slender framework
of gold. "Run and see what you can get upon these things, Lizzie; the
desk was a valuable one in years gone by. I want every shilling I can
raise."

"I can lend you a little, Mrs. Lenoir."

".God reward you, my dear! I Will take it. You shall be repaid, if I
live."

"I know that. Why, Mrs. Lenoir!" she had caught sight of the
bank-notes on the table.

"It is traitor's money, Lizzie, left by the man who was here a few
minutes since. A curse, instead of a blessing might fall upon me if I
used one penny of it."

At five o'clock in the afternoon, Mrs. Lenoir received the following
note:


"Meet the young lady at Ludgate Hill Station at half-past six o'clock.
You will find her waiting for you in the ladies' room. I have decided
upon Sevenoaks as a good starting-place. I will see you there
to-night.

"A.T."




CHAPTER XXVII


A fortunate chance revealed to Seth Dumbrick the knowledge of the
Duchess's flight many hours before she intended him to become
acquainted with it. Both he and Sally had observed a strange and
unaccountable excitement in the Duchess's manner, and had spoken of it
in confidence to each other. She had been absent twice during the day,
and when on the second occasion she returned, her restlessness was so
marked that it communicated itself to her friends. It was not without
fear, nor without some sense of the ingratitude of the act, that the
Duchess prepared secretly for flight, and more than once her courage
almost failed her; but she fortified herself with the reflection that
she could return at the last moment if she wished, and that she had
time before her to retract.

She had no real love for Ned Chester. She liked him, and had been led
away by his attentions and flatteries, by the handsome presents he had
given her, and by the belief that he was rich and a gentleman. All the
sentiment that the future contained for her was that she would be able
to live like a lady. In all other respects the page was blank, and her
history would be written from experiences to come.

Early in the afternoon there was a heavy fall of snow, which, from
appearance, bid fair to continue through the night. In the midst of
the storm, the Duchess stole away from Rosemary Lane.

Within half a mile from home she entered a cab, as she believed
unobserved. But Sally, who was at that moment returning from the
establishment which supplied her with needlework, saw the Duchess's
face, as the cab drove swiftly off. The truth flashed upon her
instantly; the Duchess had gone away from them for ever. Wringing her
hands in despair, she ran after the cab, but it was soon out of sight,
and seeing the hopelessness of pursuit she retraced her steps, and ran
swiftly to Rosemary Lane to acquaint Seth Dumbrick with the
circumstance.

Mention has frequently been made of Mrs. Preedy. To this woman the
Duchess had entrusted a letter accompanied with a bribe, and the
instruction that it was not to be delivered to Seth until the
following morning. In the course of the few anxious minutes which Seth
(after hearing what Sally had to tell him) devoted to the endeavour to
discover a clue in Rosemary Lane, he came across Mrs. Preedy. It
needed no great shrewdness on his part to suspect, from the woman's


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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 22 of 24)