Herman Ludolphus Prior.

Six months hence : being passages from the life of Maria (née) Secretan (Volume 1) online

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' Let them have scope ; though what they do impart
Help nothing else, yet do they ease the heart."






[The Right of Tran$lation is rr<




AMID our routine -life and holiday -life, through
theatre and market, stalk unsuspected crimes. Some
amenable to man's law ; dark imageries, over which
the cord and axe impend. And some, for Avhich
there is on earth no law but the retribution of their
own consciousness. Easy enough to call such things
melodrame. No doubt there is melodrame enough ;
the tale crowded with " startling incidents," as the
phrase goes, appealing to no sense but the marvel-
thirst of vulgarity or ennui. But what has this to do
with the dramas of actual life, played out, as we see
them, by living men and women, in every day's
impression of our newspapers ; realities far too
VOL. i. 1



intense in their action even to leave room for adven-
titious excitement ? " Sensation lias had its day."
Yery well ; so much the better. But emotional force
Las not, and never can. Must nothing be written
but the jargon of the club or ball-room ; nothing of
the human hearts that have throbbed and suffered,
desolated by their own choice, or hurried on by its
compulsion in the grooves of a fatal necessity ?

I write of one such, at any rate. I write to warn
and to atone. To warn ; if it be possible, where the
act and its consequences so often hold such dispro-
portion. To atone ; if it be possible, where the past
is so far beyond recall.

I found myself at Hastings. A bright place,
even then : in my judgment, more so than the Has-
tings of the present. The old fishing-town, at the
time of which I write, had emerged from the catacomb
in which it had pleased the first settlers to iuurn
themselves ; and a miniature parade, creeping out
beyond the westernmost of the two hills which
inclosed the original site, stretched for some distance
along the beach. At a later date, St. Leonards, two


miles further on, commenced its rivalry with the
stucco palaces of Brighton ; and now a continuous
facade unites both places. But the transition period,
of which I speak, had more character and attractive-

I found myself at Hastings for the first time. I
was young enough, as far as years went ; and I
suppose I need not ignore the fact far from ordinary
looking. But I was in very ordinary attire ; and
my single hair-trunk, a chattel which had shared my
school-days, and bore " Maria Secretan "on a brass
plate at the side, was lifted from the coach with little

I requested it might be " taken to Mrs. Armitage's."
Boots looked surprised, but only for a moment : it
was obvious that I might be going there to service.
He thought again, and from his increased lack of
observance apparently divined the less pleasant fact
that I was going there as governess.

" Bill, can you take this 'ere thing up ? "

"Where's up?"

"Why, up to Armitage's."

"What, on the East Cliff? And who's it to be
took for then ? "


" AYho for ? why for this 'ere young 'ooman, in
course. Now, Miss, if you please ; we're a going to
hack into the yard."

I escaped the Jaga-Naut car, and departed with
Bill, who appeared to set a sufficient value upon
his thews and sinews and general support. Had
"Armitage's" heen the signal-post on top of the
cliff, instead of the white villa which I saw in front of
me, with grounds slanting pleasantly up the hill-side,
he could not have expressed more contempt for the
shilling which I first tendered him, and then, with a
transparent pretence of having forgotten it, supple-
mented with a second. Bill touched his hat surlily,
and departed.

" Slanting pleasantly." It would be strange to
me now so to think of it. Youth has one set of tints
for its external impressions, and age another, and the
contrast of the two is vivid enough, Heaven knows.
But it is harder and deeper where guilt and innocence
are the two painters. "Pleasantly," I should now
feel. " Yes ; as the J^gean isle may have risen
pleasantly to the exile of old Home : or the vine-
slopes of the south may greet the consumption-
stricken ! ! Pleasantly ! Well, yes, in one sense.


It is shelter, food, raiment ; that for which I have
bartered self. The slave's hire, for the slave's

Ah ! but I' had no such cynicisms then !

I was shown into a drawing-room, and found my-
self alone. It was a summer afternoon July and
there was some entertainment in hand out of doors
which had temporarily cleared the premises, not only
of my legitimate lords, but also of the minor tyrannies,
flunkey, parlour- maid, or whatever else they might
be, which I dreaded rather the worse of the two.
Otherwise, instead of being ushered into the drawing-
room by the rosy-cheeked girl who opened the door
in her betters' absence, I should doubtless have been
passed up the back-stairs to my own regions, and
awaited the "mistress's" orders. As it was, I had
the drawing-room to myself.

" Harcourt Villa " of course looked seaward ;
Beechy Head closed in the right distance, now lying
in soft haze ; the sea sparkled, studded with fishing
craft ; on the lawn, joyous voices rose, and forms
flitted in light drapery. " Armitages' " was clearly
in no hurry to welcome the governess assuming
that an avatar of such insignificance had been an-


nounced, which was more than questionable and I
had leisure to study the handsome room. A very
different one, certainly, from the Islington parlour of
my own experiences ! It is extremely plausible to say
that there is no happiness in pile carpets and ample
hangings ; in gilding and ormolu, and the hundred
knick-knacks which wealth accumulates. Perhaps
not. But there is unhappiness in the make-shifts
with which "genteel poverty" replaces them; at
any rate, when one's eyes have become opened to
the fact. My father, poor man, had deceased in
the conviction that the craped pier-glass and faded
chintzes, to the contemplation of which he daily
returned from his bank-stool, were all that heart
could desire. Would .that his daughter had retained
the same faith !

Still left alone. I walked to the window. The
amusement in hand, as I had already divined, was
archery. A minor gathering, apparently ; the num-
bers were not sufficient for a " toxophilite " grand
day. But the scene was festal enough. Best dresses
in requisition ; bright colours, and not a few pretty
faces ; assiduity in the male department, and smiles
and soft speeches in the female. At present there


was a general move towards a side avenue, where the
shooting was to take place, that part of the garden
being in shade. The lawn, on which I looked out,
was now deserted. I could see the moving figures
imperfectly through the foliage, and I heard the
voices ; but where I stood I was quite alone.

Alone, indeed. Who among that animated throng
cared for me or my arrival ? Their existence was a
magic circle which my foot must never hope to enter.
I might gaze and admire at respectful distance ;
probably be indulged, like a child, with a peep
inside. But that charmed interior itself, so home-
like to others, must for me have a salient angle of
repulsion in every corner !

And with these thoughts came something else.

There is great gloom, I have often fancied, in
that broad, bright sunshine. To-day, it smote upon
me with a heaviness which I could not account for.
My depression was intensified. It would have
relieved me to have sobbed aloud, but the feel-
ing of utter dejection was too strong even for

And then, slowly and wearily; first shaping
itself out of the very substance of the light which


flooded the sky and danced on the sward in bright
haze ; next, by degrees, dimming the perspective of
land and sea; then, entering the room, and drooping
in heavy folds from its panel-painting and lofty
draperies; slowly, but very certainly, there sunk
upon me that shadow which is never encountered
without leaving its permanent impress upon heart
and brain.

Every one has read stories in which the Tempter
appears in some palpable shape, and baits for his
victim with this or that object of desire ; gain,
revenge, be it what it may. They may be true ;
I cannot tell ; 1 am not narrating anything of that
kind. But I do know, I knew it at the time, that at
the moment of which I write the action of my own
mind became complicated with something external
to itself. That, in so doing, a great change passed
upon it.

Let me explain in half-a-dozen lines. I shall
not be further tedious about myself. But the story
of my life dates from that moment.

What I mean is, that, in great guilt, there is
usually a definite compact, so to speak, preceding the
act itself; often long preceding it. Take love, the


criminal passion. I suppose the precise point of
time comes, and can be fixed afterwards, Avlien there
is a distinct self-knowledge and acquiescence that the
object must be attained, and it-ill be, at whatever
cost. I became conscious now of a similar surrender.
All my life long, far as intelligent memory could
cany me, I had had one great craving. I did crave
for wealth. Not for its own sake : what did I care
for piled bushels of coin ? Not with the conventional
accompaniments of envy, or malice, or the like deadly
sins. Oh ! no ; all the world might have been rich
if I had only been allowed to be so. Not, lastly,
with any capacity for scheming for it. I had not a
particle of the adventuress in my composition. ]\Iy
moral impressions of myself at this time are that I
was passably good : affectionate, unselfish, as the
phrase goes, in most things. But I had this
hungry, hard longing within me : I did long for this
wealth ! I wanted what it would buy. Nothing
which I had ever analyzed very closely : nothing
specific in detail. But something, unquestionably,
which was to be glorious, transcendental; a new
creation ; the stalactite cavern, opened by a random
stroke on the hill-side, and dazzling the discoverer


with its pomp of light, its flashing roof and corridors,
and columns scintillating with gems !

And it was this which came upon me to-day.
Not now for the first time ; although its visitations
had hitherto been exceptional : normally, it might
not have existed. Not, even now, with the faintest
surmise that the vision my fancy sketched out
would ever be in fact realized. But it did to-day
present itself with a vividness, an intuition of its
nature and my OAVD, which it had never done before.
I now knew the price I was prepared to pay for the
purchase of what I coveted. I knew, now, that if
ever the golden chalice were lifted to my lips I must
drain it, at whatever cost. If the price were to be
death, I must drain it. If it were to bar the gates
of Paradise against me, I must drain it.

No : there was no palpable shape ; nothing to
prompt credulity or point sarcasm. But there was a
presence, a something external to me, which com-
manded. And there was a will and mind within me
which obeyed.

And then the cloud lifted, and was as though it
had not been. Was as though it had not been, until
the day and hour which were to come did come !


My solitude was disturbed at last. A child's
voice made itself audible in tlie hall outside. A
vicious, disagreeable utterance, suggesting a spoilt
boy the organ was of male calibre of some two or
three years old. Its owner was apparently under-
going a removal indoors; very adversely to his
personal inclinations.

" I do on't wa ant to. Do n't, Helen ; do
o on't ! You nasty thing ; I won't come in. Get
away, Helen ! Ngy a a h!" Here the whimper
of the previous performance broke into a sostenuto of

" But Mamma says you are to come in, Fred.
You know it is your time to go to Burgess now.
Come and race sister Helen along the passage.
Come, Freddy dear."

But Freddy dear continued obdurate, finally con-
centrating himself upon a roar which brought another
actor on the scene. I concluded, the Burgess of the
foregoing colloquy.

" For shame, Miss Helen ! to see you dragging
the poor child about like that. I wonder his Mamma
trusts him to you. You seem to think, you and Mr.
Charles, that because he's not your Papa's own you


may do wkat you like to him. Conie to Burgess, that's
a dear darling. He shan't be put upon, shall he ? "

" You know, Burgess, that is not true," replied
the young lady voice I had previously heard. " You
know that I was not dragging Fred, as you call it.
I had no wish to bring him in. I was just going to
shoot when Manama sent me with him. He was
naughty at leaving the ground, that was all."

" I daresay, Miss, you didn't particularly like
leaving it yourself. Other people can be put out
when they're crossed, besides a poor babe like that.
Maybe I didn't know that Mr. Fortescue was shooting
there to-day. I have eyes as well as my betters, I
can tell you."

An indignant reply, which was evidently rising to
the lips of the younger speaker, was checked before
it became articulated. The shaft of impertinence had
told, however. Pending the process of deporting
Master Fred, still injured and resentful, into the
upper regions, the door of a small room, through
which I had entered the drawing-room, was opened^
hastily ; and I gathered that Helen had flung herself
on the sofa, and was sobbing.

Nearly at the same moment, she was called by


some one outside the house. The new comer did
not see me, but was visible himself from the window ;
a young face, indicating nineteen, or thereabouts, but
bronzed with exercise, and, as I at once saw, more
than ordinarily frank and prepossessing. At present,
this fresh actor was in an excited frame of mind,
and delivered himself accordingly.

"Helen, where are you? They're all waiting
for you to shoot. Helen ! He-len ! "

"Yes, Charles, what is it?"

" Oh, that's where you are ? Come quick,
Leenie ; they'll none of them shoot while you're
away. As if I didn't see that game of the missus's,
sending you off the lawn just before your turn came.
I tell you what, Helen ; it is a thundering shame
the way she goes on with you. Why, you've been
crying. What's the matter ? "

" Nothing, Charles. I am not crying."

" Oh ! ain't you though. Look, there are two
great drops, one on each cheek. What's it about,
Leenie ? Never mind her, although she did try to
jockey you in that cool way."

" Oh ! no, I didn't mind that. It's only my
nonsense, Charles. Burgess said something rude,


and I was just foolish for a minute. Let us come
and shoot now."

" I should like to have a shot a la William Tell,"
said the other speaker, "with mother Burgess at
twenty yards and an apple on top of her. Wouldn't
I just not hit the apple ! Mrs. Armitage would not
be so bad if it were not for Burgess."

" For shame, Charles ; you know you should
not speak of Mamma like that. And I wish you
would call her Mamma sometimes, if only for dear
Papa's sake."

"I'll be hanged if I do then, Helen. What
business had she to go marrying him, and making
us all uncomfortable ? So soon, too, after our dear
Mamma's death. I tell you what it is, Leenie,
Papa's regularly infatuated with that woman. If he
wasn't, and was only about a little more, he'd see
the way she goes on with you. It was entirely her
jealousy, or something of the sort, because you're so
pretty, and because she sees Fortescue likes you,
that she got you off the ground just now. Well, you
needn't blush, you know. Then look how she's
always snubbing you, and putting those brats of hers
in the foreground."


" Hush, Charles, for shame ! They're like our
brother and sister now."

" Oh ! I don't mind Flo' and Louisa so much,
considering they're her children. But I hate that
Fred. Yes, I do," continued the speaker, apparently
cutting short some protest of his companion. " He's
just an epitome in small of Mrs. A. herself. He's
passionate, and sly, and domineering, and . . . All
right, Bowles. I've found her. I tell you what it
is, Helen," he resumed, as they rounded a belt of
trees en route for the target; " if that young shaver
doesn't come to an untimely end some day ..."

Mr. Charles rather dropped his voice here. And
from this cause, as well as from the projection of the
shrubs, which apparently screened some servants'
apartments on the ground-floor, the concluding words
were inaudible.

Inaudible. To me, and at that time. Alas ! for
the time when I eventually did hear them !



HALF-A-DOZEN lines of explanation, which I would
authorize the reader to skip if I saw my way to it.
But I do not.

The Florence, alias Flo', and Louisa of the
preceding chapter, were to be my pupils. As will
have been gathered, they, with the objectionable
" Fred," were Mrs. Armitage's children by a previous
marriage. Their father's name was Poynder ; a
custom-house employe, deceased shortly after Fred's
birth. His relict's union with Mr. Armitage dated
about a year before my engagement at Harcourt
Villa ; sufficiently close upon the death of the first
Mrs. Armitage to excite some comment, which how-
ever bore more heavily upon the second wife than
upon the widower. Of the first Mrs. Armitage,
Charles and Helen were the only surviving children ;


Helen being about my own age, eighteen. Her
brother, as I have said, was a year older. Florence
and Louisa were nine and seven respectively. Of the
Poynder-Armitage alliance it appeared unlikely there
would be any fruits.

Such Avas the substance of the family history,
as it evolved itself after a few days' residence at
Harcourt Villa. At present, I am in my early
novitiate there, and diligently employed with my
two pupils.

My two pupils. Well, it is not with them that
my story will have much to do. Oh ! Heaven, that
it might ! Would that what I have to narrate
were some schoolroom chronicle, the most didactic,
most trivial, most insipid of such records ; a prize
book for Christmas, a proselytism, an infant primer ;
anything but the fact it is !

But it may not be. The river has leapt its rock-
barrier ; the whirling leaf is swept away for 'ever !

Of these children indeed I might write with some
interest, were I concerned to do so. When their
character showed itself, it impressed me favourably ;
but for the events which followed, I should have found
much to love in them. Particularly in the elder,

VOL. i. 2



Florence, a shy, grave child, not without good looks,
and devotedly fond of Charles, while Charles, in his
heart, rather relented to her. in turn, notwithstanding
the mother's delinquencies. For Louisa I cared less.
She was a coquette, merry and attractive enough,
but with no special substance about her. I do not
know indeed that either sister possessed traits
amounting to a speciality.

No, my story is not with them. How it has
since fared with either I have no knowledge. Satis-
factorily married, it may be ; useful, matronly
members of society, with no feature of romance in
themselves or their histories, other than their passing
connection with the circumstances rfut of which my
tale springs. Let them disappear as main personages
from its pages, while the real actors unravel its dark
skein for themselves.

Our schoolroom was badly situated in one respect.
It was at the foot of the main staircase, between that
and the hall. One door of the room its chorography
is indelibly impressed on other memories than my
own opened upon this staircase. The other as
immediately adjoined the hall.

From the above state of facts it resulted that no one


ever thought of going upstairs without at least trying
the mahogany handle of the schoolroom door on the
hall-side. "While, conversely, every one who came
downstairs, as instinctively attacked the brass knob
which presented itself at their base. I believed that,
long before Euclid demonstrated it, nature had im-
planted in our breasts the theorem that two sides of
any given triangle are greater than the third. But, be
this as it may, the fact is that Harcourt Villa, male and
female, infantile and adult, claimed an immemorial
use and right of thoroughfare through the school-
room. When frustrated strategically in this expec-
tation by the occupants bolting both doors, the Villa
ignored the fact as long as possible, and then quitted
the particular mahogany or brass handle on which it
had been experimenting with a loudly expressed
sense of injury. If either bolt was left undrawn, the
Villa, in the event of lessons being in progress,
diffused itself over the room with remarks of a gene-
rally patronising tendency, and was with difficulty
ejected. If the room was empty, the visitors con-
tented themselves with opening cupboards, turning
over slates and copy-books, and rummaging in
such desks, drawers, and other private receptacles as


had been rashly left unlocked. The schoolroom was
not a specially attractive lounge, but it answered the
purpose. And as Charles Armitage was pleased to
illustrate the matter, " the worst billiard-table indoors
is better than the best out."

It is to Charles that my reminiscences again
turn on the first day, after my establishment in the
schoolroom just described, which I connect with any
matter of interest. Our defences had been neglected ;
and a brisk step down-stairs, with a sharp and sudden
manipulation of the brass door-handle, surprised my
pupils and myself in a statistical description of the
interior of China. I had come to know that step,
although to-day I was too late to prevent its ingress.
The little girls had not heard it, and when the visitor
entered, looked up at him timidly enough. Their
relations with Charles amounted to little more than
toleration ; nor did he affect to aim at making things
otherwise. Even Florence's favour was of a negative
order only.

" I beg pardon, Miss Secretan ; don't let me
interrupt. I am only going through to the hall.
Do you mean that you do lessons on such a splendid
day as this ? "


"A fact, as you see, Mr. Charles."

" What a nuisance it must be teaching. I should
hate it. I suppose you are immensely clever."

" Oh ! immensely, of course. And now perhaps
you will let us go on with the lessons."

"I don't think you can be, though either," said
Charles, totally ignoring 'my request, as our self-
invited visitors always did. "If you were one of
those clever people you would be like Miss Bask-
cornbe, which you are not the least, thanks be."

I was fain to inquire who the obnoxious Miss
Baskcombe was.

"Ah! Mademoiselle," said the two children's
voices in one breath, " she was our governess before
you came. She was so nasty." " And with such
stony black, eyes," said Florence. "And left
out all her h's, though she was so clever," said

" Except what she put in," corrected Charles.
" She had a notion of fairness, Miss Secretan. There
was generally the right total of aspirates, as we
call them at Harrow, only they were in the wrong
places. By the way, though, there was one act of
injustice towards the h's which she never quite


atoned for. She came in one day, and told Mrs.
Armitage ' '

" Oh ! yes, I know," interrupted Louisa, clapping
her hands.

" 'that 'Miss 'Elen 'ad been up on the 'ill

with 'er 'at in 'er 'and and over'eated 'erself and was
quite 'oarse in consequence.' I can't think where
Mr. Armitage picked her up ; she was a sort of
cousin of old Poynder's, I fancy. Come then, Flo',
don't cry ; I didn't mean it, you know." And
Charles actually stooped and kissed my elder pupil,
whose tears had risen to the lids at this irreverent
mention of the defunct.

" Is Mr. Charles at home ? " asked a voice at
the open hall-door the hell had rung, a minute

" Here you are. Come in, Mr. Fortescue,"
shouted Charles, advancing to meet the new visitor,
who was already in the room.

Mr. Fortescue. The name was, as the reader
knows, familiar to me from the day of my arrival, but
I had not yet seen its owner. He had been absent

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Online LibraryHerman Ludolphus PriorSix months hence : being passages from the life of Maria (née) Secretan (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 15)