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health, and when I arrived at the Eectory
she was absent, having gone out with my
aunt for a drive in the carriage. For this
I was not sorry, as it enabled me to have
at once that interview with, my uncle which
I so greatly desired.

The rector welcomed me very heartily,
yet did not look less worried than on the
last occasion when I had seen him.

" Here is a precious lot of rubbish,"
cried he, pointing to a mass of documents
with which the table was covered. " No


sooner have I escaped from one legal cob-
web than I get caught in another. What
wrong have I ever done to my fellow-
creatures that any one of them should ap-
point me his trustee ? "

"Indeed," said I, *' uncle, I am very
sorry to find you so bothered ; and more
particularly as I want to bother you myself.
My aunt and Gertrude, I find, are out, and
I wish to take the opportunity of their
absence to have a talk with you upon my
unfortunate affairs."

"Yes, I've made a pretty mess of them,
Harry," observed my uncle, ruefully.

" I am sure you did it all for the best,
sir," answered I, cheerfully.

"That is small comfort, my poor lad,
when everything has happened for the worst,"
returned my uncle, gloomily. "See, this
comes of trusting a lawyer. But whoever
would have thought that Mark Kaeburn was
a swindler and a thief? To rob his own
flesh and blood — an unprotected girl — and


liis own war»;l ! Only think of that ! Gertrude
has behaved hke an ano-el about it, as one
would have expected of her ; nor from your
lips, my lad, have I heard one word of com-
plaint — and you might with justice have
complained. '

" My dear uncle,'*' retiu:ned I, deeply
aflfected by the rector's manner, which was
most contrite and tender, '*' I hope I should
never complain of you for any miscarriage
<)f my affairs, even were you to blame.
Nothing, however, could have been done, so
far as I can see, to hinder this man from
robbing us. The mischief was probably com-
pleted when I came upon those duplicates,
so that, even if you had inquu^ed at the
Bank about the deeds — as Mr. Eaeburn
had the audacity to suggest — no real good
would have come of it. We should only
have discovered our losses earlier."

" Still, in that case, we might have saved
something out of the fire ; and it was my
duty to have made the inquiry. I had.


however, some excuse for my negligence,
Harry, as this document will show," and
he placed his hand upon a parchment roll
that lay on the table.

" My dear uncle," answered I warmly,
"I do not wish you to excuse yourself.
Whatever I have lost is far less than what I
already owe to you ten times told. I am
young and strong, and fit to make my own
way in the world. It is not upon my own
account that I feel this blow at all. It wrecks
my happiness, because it has destroyed — I
am afraid, utterly destroyed — the hopes I
had entertained with respect to Gertrude.
I want you to tell her from me — I thought
that I could have told her myself, but I dare
not — that all must needs be over between us ;

that though I love her so dearly " I

suppose I must have broken down here, since
my uncle interposed with a " Don't fret, don't
fret, lad. Sunshine will come out of this

"'No, no, uncle; it is idle to cling to such


a hope, and it would be doing wrong to

" If Alec had only known the poor girl's
fortune had gone," mused the rector, once
more touching the papers before him, " he
would not have made such a will as this.
It is he who has put me into this new hobble,
by appointing me his executor. He left
Gerty nothing, as he told us, because he con-
cluded that she was already provided for.
Else she would have been an heiress

'' I would she were," said I, presently ;
" though, had it happened so, she would
still have been as far out of my reach as

" Why so ? " inquired my uncle, sharply.
His tone and the sudden colour on his
cheek reminded me that he himself, as a
poor man, had married a woman with money,
though, I am sure, not from mercenary con-
siderations. Indeed, as I have said at the
commencement of my tale, my aunt had


thrown the handkerchief to him, and he
could not help himself.

*'Well," stammered I, "having wooed
Gertrude on something like equal terms, I
should not like to have held her to her
bargain when she was rich, and I had not
a penny."

" Ah, you think people of fortune should
only wed people of fortune, do you ? "
observed the rector, drily; "that's a pity,
since otherwise you and Gertrude might
have made a match of it yet."

"How is that, sir?" inquired I, with
eagerness. " Believe me, that if any good
fortune has happened to — to Miss Floyd —
I shall rejoice indeed."

" I am sure you would, my lad ; but
there is no such luck. Here is a copy of
Alec Eaeburn's will, with a number of dread-
ful documents in connection with it — the
poor man had shares in everything, it seems
— which I only received from town this
morning. In default of relations, or rather


hj reason of the exclusion of tliem for
the reasons with which we are acquainted,
he has left the residue of his fortune, after
deducting the sum sunk in the annuity, to
his London agent."

" A very mistaken measure, in my opinion,
uncle, and one that shows more pique than
good principle," exclaimed I hotly, thinking
how many shifts and buffets from poverty's
hard hand even a little of this money might
have saved my darling.

'' De mortuis, Harry," observed my uncle,

" Nay, sir, I speak no ill of him," returned
I. *^ For my own part, I have none bat
kindly recollections of the poor old man ;
indeed, he left me a legacy as it is," and
I pointed to Chico, who I had brought in
with me in his cage, and who had been
listening to our conversation with his head
on one side and a preternaturally sagacious
twinkle in his eye.

'' He left you something more, Harry


Sit down now, and don't be excited while
I read to you a little extract that concerns
yourself. When I said that Alec Eaeburn
had bequeathed the residue of his fortune
■ — twenty thousand pounds it is, not a penny
less — to his London agent, I should have added
that it was ' in trust to Harry Sheddon/ "

"You are joking, sir," gasped I. ''He
cannot have left it to me ? "

*' Ton my life he has though, if I can
read English, Harry. These are his words :
' I do not leave this money to Gertrude
Floyd,' says he, ' as it would behove me to
do, since, in that case, my brother Mark
may come to inherit it, which I do not
desire ; but to Harry Sheddon, on con-
dition that he shall marry the said Ger-
trude Floyd.'"

I felt thunderstruck, and for a moment
or two could find no voice to speak.

" Cheer up ! cheer up, you lubber ! " cried

the parrot, suddenly. ''D your eyes,

cheer up ! "


Eemoved from the depressing atmo-
sptiere of Brother Alec's room, Chico had
recovered his marine vocabulary.

The rector leant back in his chair and
roared with laughter. " If you should not
be rich enough to afford to keep that bird,
my lad, I will keep it for you. You may
still be a poor man if you please. The
terms of the will require that you should
marry Gertrude, and if your late objections
to inequality of fortune are absolutely in-
surmountable "

" Nay, sir, since I am only to take the
fortune, conditionally ujjon my sharing it
with Gertrude, it is, in fact, divided between
us," urged I, laughingly.

" I thought you would contrive to re-
concile yourself to a little sacrifice of prin-
ciple," said my uncle drily, who had evidently
not quite forgiven me for my independent
spirit. " I could have told you of this good
luck weeks ago, Harry, but I could not
resist putting you to the test of adversity,


which, I must say, you have stood in a
way that does you honour. This will was
made when I went up with poor Alec to
town, and, until his death, I promised to
keep its provisions secret. It was the know-
ledge of them, however, which made me
more delicate than I otherwise might have
been with respect to Mark Eaeburn. Since
his brother had left so much money away
from his family to my nephew, I did not
like to show a want of confidence in the
attorney's management of my own affairs.
That was the excuse I spoke of, for my not
inquiring about those documents at the

" You will at least permit me then,"
urged I, "to refund to you what you
have lost, uncle, through delicacy upon my
account "

" Chut, chut," interrupted the rector ;
'' what is gone was yours, lad, for it was all
intended for you, which comes to the same
thing. There is no refunding, nor business


of any kind, thank goodness, to be transacted
further. The London agent and I are your
trustees, and all we have to do is to see
that the conditions of the will are carried
into effect, and that as soon as possible. Yes,
sir," continued my uncle, assuming an air
of severity, " you will have to marry this
young woman before the year's out.''



My uncle had not been so reticent to Gertrude
as lie had been to me. He had not had
the heart to conceal from her the good
fortune that was in store for me, and, there-
fore, for herself. In her delicate state of
health, and in the distress of mind from
which she was suffering from the disgrace
of her kinsfolk, it would indeed have been
a cruelty to withhold any materials for
comfort, and they had been to her bodily
health as a tonic, and to her wounded spirit
as a balm.

I never saw her looking better or more
beautiful, though I had seen her look more


bright, tlian when I clasped her in mj arms
that afternoon at Stanbrook ; and even the
brio^htness came back to her in time. After
all, no one else had suffered from the de-
pravity of the attorney except ourselves,
whose interests had lain so helplessly at
his mercy, and the Assurance Company,
whose two quarterly payments, extorted by
his fraud, it was my first care to make good
out of Brother Alec's legacy. None of our
neighbours had lost a penny by the Eae-
burns, and everyone was full of respectful
sympathy upon Gertrude's account. Not a
word of bitterness ever escaped her lips in
connection with the loss of her fortune.
"Think as charitably as you can of us,
Gerty," had been the attorney's last words
to her after he had confessed the wrong he
had done her ; and she did not neglect his
injunctions. As for ]\Irs. Eaeburn — of whose
iniquity she never knew for years, and whose
disagreeable characteristics were forgiven if
not forgotten, when she learnt that the grave



had closed over lier — she would sometimes
speak of her with a tenderness that aroused
my secret indignation. When the sale,
necessitated by the attorney's debts, took
place at the Priory, she even expressed a
wish to obtain some memento of her late
hostess, and I had, tlierefore, purchased for
her the escritoire at which that lady had
been wont to sit when supervising her weekly

I did not conceive that the terms of
Alec Eaeburn's will, though they ran "with-
in the year," by any means precluded my
marriage with Gertrude within the month;
and I should have liked it to take place
with even more than that despatch if the
matter had rested with myself alone ; but my
darling's sorrow for the misfortunes and,
alas ! the crimes, of her cousins was not
only severe but lasting, while the shock of
Mrs. Eaeburn's sudden demise affected her
so seriously, that I made up my mind that
she should never know how it had really


happened. Thus the summer had reached
its fulness ere my happiness was permitted
to culminate in our union, which, it was
arranged, should not separate us from the
old home. My aunt's affection for Gertrude
had grown to be very great — much greater,
indeed, I must confess, than it had ever
been for me. Gerty would carry Nelly in
her arms — -while, thanks to my clumsiness,
I had never been permitted so responsible a
charge — and did, out of love, a thousand
little things to please her hostess which no
hired " companion " would have done for her,
or, at least, not half so graciously for fee or
favour. " You will kill me, you wicked boy,"
said Aunt Eleanor, ''if you take the mean
advantage of being her husband to carry that
dear girl away from Stanbrook." In fact, it
was not ^dthout difficulty and much indig-
nant remonstrance that we contrived to p-et
away from the Rectory even for our honey-
moon. I used the opportunity of the
temporary enfranchisement to take my

F 2


darlino^ abroad, and tlie tliorouoli chano^e
of scene she tlius experienced was of tlie
greatest value to her in effacing her sad
recollections of the Priory and its inmates.
On this account we prolonged our absence,
and were only hurried back at last by a
half-illegible note from Mrs. Hastings,
whose handwriting was generally the pink
of perfection, adjuring us to return to the
Kectory forthwith if we wished to see her
husband alive. Then my heart reproached
me for having played the truant, though,
indeed, I had not done so from selfish
motives, and poor Gerty was so distressed,
that half the benefit which her holiday had
wrought in her seemed to have disappeared
at the ill news. Throughout our journey
home, which was accomplished with ex-
traordinary speed, our talk was almost
exclusively of kind Uncle Ealpli, and of
the blow that threatened us, or, even at
that moment, might have already fallen.
We had telegraphed the hour of our arrival


at Kirkdale, and at the station found the
carriage waiting to carry us to the Eectory,
But, alas ! the footman, who met us on
the platform, was in deep mourning, and
I perceived at once that we had reach^l
home too late.

*' He is gone, then ] " whispered I to
the man.

" Oh, yes, sir ; and now that it is so,
even missus herself, I think, feels it a happy

'' Good heavens ! Then did he suffer so
much ? "

" Well, sir, just as you have always
known him, only wusser — a wheezing and
a waddlin "

" It must be the dog ! " cried Gertrude,
almost in hysterics, not from laughter, but
from the revulsion from ^Tetchedness to relief
that she thus suddenly experienced.

" Oh, yes, miss — I mean marm — it were
the poor doag. He be buried in the
corner of the croquet-ground, underneath


the cypress-tree, and a mossy lion is to be
put over it."

Ui3on once more re-perusing Aunt
Eleanor's scrawl, we perceived that she had
not mentioned her husband by name, though,
of course, we had never doubted that the
phrase, *' If you wish to see my darling
alive," had reference to him and him alone.
At first my wife and I were very indignant,
believing that this dubiety of expression had
been intentional — that it was a j)ious fraud,
on Aunt Eleanor's part, to have us home.
But when we saw her, it was plain that
she had WTitten out of the fulness of her

" Your uncle ? Not a bit of it," whim-
pered she, contemptuously, upon our telling
her of our mistake. "When he comes to lose
me, I trust he will show more feeling than he
did for my poor darling."

A bitterness which, the rector privately
explained to me, had its origin in his re-
fusal to ask for the intercessions of his


conorre'Tatioii in favour of the moribund
animal. For six months the household wore
the crarb of woe for the deceased : after
which, to my gi^eat content, my aunt's af-
fections transferred thenxselves to Chico, in
consequence of some s}Tnpathetic obsers^ation
he had uttered a propos de hottes, bur
supposed by her to have reference to her
departed favourite. Xevertheless, she would
often interrupt her game at croquet — and
more especially when she was on the losing
.side — to ^-isit the mausoleum, and drop the
silent tear on Nelly's remains.

Afterwards there were worse losses with
us, that have left a void in our hearts up
to this day. My wife and I live alone now
— for Heaven has not vouchsafed us children
— and the memory of dear Uncle Ealph and
his wife has been, for many a year, all that
has remained of them ; but we are still in,
the old house, the present rector preferring
to receive rent for it and reside elsewhere,
I have been an idle man all my Hfe, except


that for some years I devoted myself, with
no very marked success, to poetic com-
position ; yet I am by no means an unhappy
one. If the general public did not appreciate
my muse as she deserved, my wife's admira-
tion made up for their indifference, and I now
repose upon my laurels. Stanbrook is not so
much " out of the world " as it used to be,
yet enough so to retain its quiet attractions.
Our most frequent visitor is Mr. Wilde,
who, having given up practice, often occu-
pies our spare room to the satisfaction of
us both. Sometimes, though rarely, we
discourse to him of those events which,
happening when we were little more than
boy and girl, seem to have exhausted, as it
were, at its commencement all the romance
life had in store for us ; at others, we con-
verse of those who lived beneath our roof
before us, and whose love for us has hallowed
it. From my study-window I can see the
churchyard where the good old rector lies
beside his Eleanor ; and where, not far


removed from them, lie the remains of
Brother Alec, which my uncle caused to be
brouo-ht thither from Sandibeach. There is
another grave, too, beside Xelly's splendid
" mossy lion," in our garden. Beneath a rose-
tree, on which he was once wont to climb
and cling in the summer time, lies poor
Chico. He was very old before he died. His
scarlet plumage faded like a veteran's coat,
though his tongue ran on, especially at night,
with all the garrulit}^ of age. Grown very
infirm and sick, however, he would at last
only shake his head despondingly, as though
there were no hope, in answer to inquiries
as to the state of his health ; so that when
he did really die, which happened out of
doors in the July sunshine, the finding of
his voice again quite electrified us. " Dead,
dead ! ^' cried he, " think of that ! " and fell
lifeless from his perch into my wife's

There is one circumstance which I must
not forget to narrate to my readers (it was


many a year after its occurrence before I
dared to tell it to my wife), since it explains
a certain incident, which might have been
a catastrophe, that has been left unsolved
throughout these pages. I have said that
an escritoire belonging to the late Mrs. Eae-
burn had passed into our possession. It had
been j)laced in my aunt's boudoir, and Gerty
used to write her letters upon it. She one
day complained to me that, though it stood
evenly enough upon its legs, it would occa-
sionally rattle when pushed, as though some
hinge or other metallic part of it was out
of order. I accordingly entered upon an
investigation of the interior, when the follow-
ing discovery took place : my aunt was in
the room at the time, engaged at her own
desk, but Gertrude, most fortunately, was.
occupied elsewhere about the house, of which
the whole management had been long deputed
to her. Not being able to find the cause
of the rattling, I took out all the drawers
of the escritoire and then turned it right


over, whereupon something fell out with a

" What is it ? *' inquired my aunt, look-
ing u]) with some curiosity from her letters..
" What on earth is it ? " she repeated, since
I did not reply.

" Not much," said I ; '" only this, which
must have o;ot lodo-ed hehind some of the

And I held a jDenny between my finger
and thumb.

" Ah, you may depend upon it that
woman had put that by against a rainy
day," observed my aunt, contemptuously.
" I should not have been astonished had
you found a farthing done up in cotton
wool. It makes me quite in a passion to
hear Gertrude speak so respectfully of the
old miser."

" ^Irs. Eaeburn was never a favourite of
yours. Aunt Eleanor, was she ? " returned
I, gravely.

" A favourite "? No, indeed ! I had the


worst possible opinion of lier. Nothing
that you could possibly tell me of her
would surprise me. My only wonder was
that she died in her bed."

And yet I could have surprised my aunt
at that very moment by telling her what
I had really found in Mrs. Raeburn's desk.
It was not a penny, but the key belonging
to the chain of our skiff, which had been
missino^ ever since that adventure on the
lake which had so nearly proved fatal. I
knew at once that it was Mrs. Eaeburn
who, while Gertrude left her in the boat-
house, had removed the plugs out of the
punt, and afterwards stolen this key, so that
the skiff could not be used. Why she had
retained it in that secret place, instead of
throwing it into the lake, I could not
^uess. Perhaps, when her object had been
attained, it had been her intention to
secretly restore it, for her sense of the rights
of property was always acute. At all
events, the imprudence, as it turned out,


had clone her no harm. I couid not think
worse of her than I already did. She had
tried to murder Gertrude twice instead of
once, that was all ; in the first instance, to
be sure it chanced that I also was included
in the design, but that was a mere inci-
dental circumstance, which I have no doubt
she would have avoided if she could, and
which she had perhaps regretted. I put the
key in one of my uncle's cupboards, where in
due time it was found, to the g^reat bewilder-
ment of the household. The rector pro-
tested he had searched for it in that very
place himself half-a-dozen times, a statement
received with scornful incredulity by Aunt

'' It was fortunate, at all events, you must
allow, my dear," said she, ''that you didnt
horsewhip that pedlar."

The key is in use ; but a little machine of
steel, which my readers would recognise, lies
unused and rusted in that tin box, labelled
" Mr. Hastings's securities," which once orna-


mentecl the attorney's office shelves. I keep
it as a memento of the narrow escape which
my unconscious darling had from the jaws
of death, and never look upon it without
thanking Heaven for her deliverance. She
has been the best and truest wife to me that
6ver man had. At first, like all other young-
couples, we had our little tiffs, but the
faithful Chico's advice — I must say most
freely offered — of " Kiss and be friends," was
always welcomed. Now we are grown far
too wise, and, alas ! too old, for even those
lovers' quarrels.

The period of our lives at which the events
occurred that I have here narrated is so far
back, that it seems to belong to some other
life, quite different from that which we have
so long lived together. Of Mark Eaeburn's
death we never heard, but I am persuaded
that his shattered constitution could not
have long sustained him in his involuntary
exile. No legal steps were ever taken to
pursue him in the United States, whither


he was reported to have fled ; and I do not
doubt that his son's ready wit may there
have found a market. At all events, among
the names mentioned as belonging to the
New York Tammany King was that of John
Kaeburn, and it certainly would seem a field
peculiarly adapted to his undoubted abilities.






Upon a certain Christmas Eve, not many
years ago, I was in a train on the North-
Western Railway, bound for London. It is
the fashion to express pity for persons of
my mature age who are obliged to travel
upon that festive season, when they ought
to be "by rights" in their chairs by their
own hearth, surrounded by laughing child-
faces, and looking forward — not without
some apprehension — to snap-dragon ; but I
did not feel any commiseration for myself
whatever. My home was in town, and I
should meet there with such a lo^T.ng wel-
come, I well knew, as would compensate me

G 2


for any inconvenience of my present posi-
tion. As for the child-faces, they indeed
were not awaiting me, but since I had never
known such, they would not be missed. I
was content to picture to myself the bright

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Online LibraryJames PaynHalves, a novel (Volume 3) → online text (page 3 of 10)