M. E. (Mary Elizabeth) Braddon.

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VOL. 11.



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The mother neither repulsed nor encouraged her
daughter's embrace. She let the girFs arms rest
upon her neck for a few minutes, while she stood
silent, with clouded brow.

" What do you want ? ■'■' she asked at last.

" Nothing — in this house.'^

" Why have you come here ? "

" For two reasons ; first I wanted you, and next
I thought you wanted me.""

'-' You thought I wanted you," cried Mrs.
Mandeville, with a scornful laugh — that discordant
laugh which tells of an habitual assumption of
mirthfulness. '^ Don't you think if I had wanted



you I should have gone to fetch you? I knew
where you were to be found."

'^You might want a daughter's love without
knowing your need of her," answered the girl
firmly, unabashed by the disorderly splendour of
the room, or by her mother's mocking laughter.

She stood before the sinner as calmly as if she
had been her guardian angel, sent to her from the
Eternal Throne.

^' I saw that you had been in great misery and
despair," she continued ; " I read of your un-
happiness in a newspaper, and I felt it was time for
me to go to you. The newspaper told me where
you lived. It was my first chance of finding you."

" Poor child ! And pray what use did you think
your coming could be to me ? "

" I might help you to make up your mind."

*^ To make up my mind ! About what ? "

'^ About leaving this house, mother dearest ;
about leaving a home in which you have been so
miserable that you would have killed yourself to
escape from it. Indeed, indeed, dear mother, there
was no need to take that last desperate step. The


world is wide enough for every one. Let us go
out into it together. You can never be more
unhappy than you were when you tried to end
your life. You may be happier, guarded by your
daughter's love.''

*^ Guarded by you ! " exclaimed the other mock-
ingly, yet with a touch of gentleness. " Oh, my
poor, loving, forgiving child, what do you suppose
you can do for me — you ? No : it is all over with
me, Madge. You should have kept clear of me —
as I have kept clear of you. I might have come
after you — might have brought you here — might
have shown you London life and its pleasures
and finery as I know them ; but I was wiser for
you than I had been for myself. Any kindness I
can try to show her will be poison, I said to myself
— better let her starve in the old man's hovel than
feast with me. I kept clear of you for your own
sake, Madge, though I dare say I seemed a cruel
mother. Yes, for your own sake — and a little,
perhaps, because I am hard by nature, and have
never felt the want of a child's love. No, I may
as well be candid. I didn't want you in the years



gone by, and I don^t want you now. You have
done a foolish thing in coming to this house, and
the best thing you can do is to get out of it the
first thing to-morrow morning, and go back to
Devonshire by an early train — go back, and never
tell the old father you have seen me."

^' I am not going back. I have come to London
for good. I am going to share my life with you.
I am strong, and I can work for you — if I can get
work to do. If I can^t, we can starve together. It
will be better than what you were going to do.''^

" Oh, donH harp upon it like that, girl. Don't
ram that odious police report down my throat, or re-
mind me of the devil that brought me to such a pass.
I was out of my senses that night. You don't sup-
pose I am always in the same humour, do you ? "

" I think your life must have been very unhappy
before it came to that."

" Yes ; I have been miserable enough by fits and
starts ; but it has not been all misery. I have
been the slave of a bad man — yes, his slave, though
before the world he pretended to make me his
queen. I have felt the bond wearing thin on both


sides — his and mine — have felt that the tie must
soon snap ; but I have held on, like grim death,
rather than let him go. I think as our love has
lessened I have grown more determined to hold
him, and to prevent his going after any one else.
I have made him pay pretty dearly for every insult
he has put upon me. It has been pull devil, pull
baker; but the baker — meaning me — has sometimes
got the upper hand.^^

She broke into a vindictive laugh as she turned
away from Madge, seeming almost to forget her pre-
sence. She stood with her elbow on the mantel-
board, looking moodily down at the expiring fire.

" No, he has not had things all his own way/'
she muttered. " I have been a match for him —

After an interval of brooding, she turned upon
Madge sharply.

" Tell me the truth, child/' she said. ^' I am a
woman of the world, not easily humbugged. What
brought you here ? ''

" I have told you my reasons, mother.-"

'^ Oh, that's all flummery. I've treated you very


badly. I was in low water when I took yon back
to the hovel where I was reared, or I don^t suppose

1 should have done such a thing. And then after-
wards — it was wiser to leave you there. What love
can there be between us then ? Mother and child !
The words are a mere empty sound to you and me.^'

'^Not to me, mother, I have nothing in the
world to love — but you. You can have my whole
heart if you will. I will be your slave, if you will
leave this house and go out into the world with me,
trusting in Providence for the rest.^'

^' Have you any money ? "

" A few shillings/'

" Any home in London ? ^'

*^ Not yet. We can look for a lodging together."

" The girl is mad."

" Not madder than you were, mother, when you
tried to poison yourself," said Madge resolutely.
*' You confessed that it was not the first time you
had tried. And you meant to die, you said.
There can be nothing that you and I may have to
face together worse than death: and you will at
least escape from — shame."


Her voice sank almost to a whisper as slie spoke
that final word.

"You talk like a book," said the mother, still

" I talk to you from the depths of my heart/'
answered the girl. "I had been thinking and
wondering about you' for a long time before I saw
that newspaper. I had yearned for you in the
loneliness of my life, and when I saw that, I
thought my time had come. I had more than one
motive. I hated my life down yonder — hated
myself. I wanted some one to work for — some pur-
pose to strive for. 1 come to you penniless, but
not helpless. I am young and strong, and know
how to work. Mother, you will trust your life to
me, won't you? You were not afraid of death;
why should you be afraid of poverty."

" Because it's a great deal worse than death.
One means the blowing out of a light ; a puff,
and all is over. No more pain, no more rage and
bitterness. No growing old and ugly, when one
has been an acknowledged beauty. Poverty is the
smouldering of the candle, burning slowly down in


the socket, guttering, flaring, stinking itself out
into darkness. Poverty for a woman who has
lived as I have lived is worse than a hundred sudden
deaths, if one could die a hundred times over by
pulling a trigger or tying a noose."

" But, mother, to escape from a bad life — from
all that has ever been evil in your life — to feel
yourself honest and brave and true. Who would
not eat dry bread for the sake of that ? "

Mrs. Mandeville did not answer immediately.
She began to pace the room, with her hands clasped
above her head, her hair streaming over her
shoulders, the white round arms bare to the elbows
— arms that a girl might have been proud of, arms
which had been the admiration of a whole theatre
sometimes, when this woman sat perdue in her box,
one white arm lying on the dark velvet cushion,
spanned with diamonds.

She paced the room silently for three or four
minutes : and then stopped abruptly, facing her

" Madge, had you come to me three years ago
with such a proposition, I suppose I should have


laughed in your face. I was in luck then — this
house was just furnished. I had two of the best
saddle-horses in London^ and a victoria that took
the shine out of half the titled ladies — those strait-
laced ones^ I mean^ who hold their heads high
because they have not been through the Divorce
Court. I had it all my own way just then — yes^
I was better off than when I was your age. But
things are changed. We have gone too fast^ both
of us. It's all up^ money gone — and love gone with
it^ girl. You know what they say — when poverty
comes in at the door^ love flies out of the window.
We never took to quarrelling desperately till he
began to lose his money. There is very little
choice for me^, Madge — death or the workhouse —
that^s about what it means — unless — unless "

*' Unless what^ mother ? "

" Unless there should be a pigeon so well worth
plucking that the crow can feather his nest again .^'

" I don^t understand you_, raother.^^

" I don't want you to understand me. You
ought never to have come here/' answered Mrs.
Mandevilie impatiently.


She was a creature of impulse and whim, having
hot fits and cold fits, now all sentiment, anon vulgar
almost to brutality, a brilliant uneducated woman,
who had seen the world in many phases, and always
on its worst side.

She rang a bell violently, and the maid who had
admitted Madge appeared so much more quickly
than is the manner of her kind, that it might
be guessed she had been listening on the

" Has Colonel Mandeville come in ? ''

" No, ma^am, and cook says the dinner won^t be
fit to throw in a pig trough."

" She had better serve it decently for all that, if
the Colonel should bring the two gentlemen I

'' I don't think there's much use in expecting
anybody now, ma'am. It's past nine o'clock," the
maid answered, with an ofi'-handed air.

" They may come any time before midnight.
Let the dinner be kept back somehow, and not
burnt to a cinder, as the quails were the last time
the Colonel dined at home, tell cook."


The girl went out, slamming the door behind

" Madge/^ said her mother, " if the man I ex-
pect is not here before midnight, I will go where
you like to-morrow morning/^

"Dear mother," cried the girl, trying to caress

'^ Don^t touch me ! I. feel like a tigress. It is
not for love of you I shall go, but for hatred of
him. Oh, the scoundrel, the relentless scoundrel, to
leave me like this in my old age. He told me the
other night that I was an old woman, and that was
why nobody cared to come to my house. He said
that, when it was his shameless cheating at cards
that had frightened away all but the greenest young
fools ; and there were not fools enough to serve his
turn ; and he rounded on me — his decoy. And he
deserts me now, with an execution in the house^
and a man in possession, and every jewel and every
rag I own stripped from me. And yet there are
women who are not half so handsome as I have
been, who have saved fortunes and bought landed
estates. It is an iufamous shame. I will go with


you to-morrow morning if things are not set
straight to-night. You shall have some supper, and
there is a room over this where you can sleep."
She put her hand upon the bell, but Madge stopped

'^ Don\ mother/' she said resolutely, yet not
ungently. '' I can''t stop in this house."

'' You can't ! Why not, pray ? "

" There^s no need to say why. I have to get a
lodging in the north of London, near the Gray's
Inn Road."

^' To-night ! Nearly ten o'clock, and you a
stranger in London. You must be mad."

'^No, I am not, mother. I know where to go,
and I don^t care how far it is. I shall be here to-
morrow morning ; if you won^t come with me to-
night — at once.''

" Go with you to the East End ; to hunt for a
room to shelter us — to spend the night in a casual
ward, perhaps. A tempting invitation, upon my

" We shall not have to hunt. I have the ad-
dress of a respectable lodging-house. It was given


me by a housemaid at Lady Belfield^s, a girl who had
been in a factory before she went into service/^

'^ How do you know that there will be room for
you in your respectable lodging-house, or that the
housemaid told you the truth about its respecta-
bility ? "

" She was a good, honest girl, and I can trust
her. Mother, why not come with me now ? '^
urged the girl pleadingly.

No woman's voice had ever addressed Margaret
Mandeville with so much tenderness, never till to-
night had a woman's arms entwined themselves
about her neck. And this girl was her own flesh
and blood, her only child, looking at her with
appealing eyes, trying to lure her away from the
brimstone path. And of late the brimstone path
had not been a way of pleasantness.

'' No, I must see to-night out/' said Mrs. Mande-
ville, between her set teeth. " I must see if ha
can be villain enough to abandon me."

*' Mother, were you ever fond of this cruel man,
who treats you so shamefully ? ■" asked Madge

VOL. n. c


Her own hopeless love made her sympathetic.
She could pity this older woman who had sacrificed
all for the man from whom she now had only
neglect for her guerdon.

'' Was I ever fond of him ? Yes/^ muttered Mrs.
Mandeville. '^ Don't I tell you that I was his
slave. I have had my admirers by the dozen — I
have had my victims, too^ and have wasted three or
four fortunes in my time. I was not called Madge
Wildfire for nothing. But this one was the only
man I ever cared for — the only one who was the
same to me in riches or poverty — the only one for
whom I made sacrifices. You would think I was
lying, perhaps, if I were to tell you the chances I
have had, and thrown avray for his sake. You
think, perhaps, that such as we don^t have our
chances. But we do, girl, and better chances than
the women who are brought up in cotton-wool,
and looked after by affectionate mothers and high-
minded fathers. I might have married a man with
half a million of money. I might have married a
man with a handle to his name, and might have
been called my lady, and your ladyship — I, Madge


Wildfire. But I flung away my chances, because
I loved Jack Mandeville — loved him and stuck to
him till he got tired of me, and only valued me as
a handsome decoy, to sit at the head of his dinner
table, and look sweet at his rich young dupes when
they dropped in for a night^s play. This house has
cost Colonel Mandeville very little, Madge ; but he
is tired of it, and of me. He let me give a bill of
sale on the furniture to my milliner, and there is
an execution in for nine hundred pounds odd, and
if that's not paid out every stick will be sold, and
I shall be turned into the street. I owe my land-
lord three quarters' rent, and he's furious about the
bill of sale. There'll be no mercy from him, even
if I could live in a house without furniture. That's
how the land lies. That was what drove me to
poison myself. I saw ruin staring me in the face,
and I saw that Mandeville did not care what became
of me."

^' Why stay here then ? Why not come with me
at once .? "

" Because he may change his mind — he may
bring me the money to-night. Tie has not been



here since that business with the poison. But I
wrote to him this morning at his club_, a letter
that might melt a stone. He may help me after
all. He may be here to-night."

'' Very well^ mother. I will come again to-
morrow morning/^ said Madge^ kissing her mother^s
burning forehead_, and then moving towards the

" You had better stay upon the premises if you
want to save me from myself."

^^ Anything but that. No^ mother^ I must go.
But I promise to be here early."

" But to-morrow I don^t promise to see you/^
answered Mrs. Mandeville angrily. ^' You are a
proud_, cold-hearted_, insolent slut. I never want to
see your face again."

'' I shall be here to-morrow morning/^ said
Madge_, unmoved by this burst of temper ; and she
was gone.

( 17 )



This journey to a strange city was not so wild an
act upon Madge's part as it might seem on the
surface of things. She had thought long and
seriously before launching her frail bark upon that
tempestuous sea. She was a girl of strong cha-
racter, a resolute, energetic nature, which could
scarce go on existing without an object to live
for. The mere sluggish, monotonous eating and
drinking and sleeping and waking, the empty
mechanism of life, was not enough for her. She
must have some one to love : she must have some-
thing to do.

Her fellow-servants at the Abbey had wondered
at the impetus with which this novice in the art
of house-cleaning had set about her work, the
vehement industry with which she had cleaned
brasses and polished looking-glasses, and swept


and dusted. That strong frame needed movement >
that tumultuous heart could only be calmed by-
constant occupation.

She had loved Valentine Belfield with all her
might. She had been tempted many a time to
fling herself into his arms, to throw herself in the
dust at his feet^ to surrender to him as a beaten
foe surrenders, slavishly^ knowing not what her
future was to be^ what the cost of that self-
abandonment. But she had battled with that
weaker half of her nature — the woman's passionate
heart; and the strong brain^ which had something
masculine in its power, had come to her rescue.
She had sworn to herself with clenched hands and
set teeth that she would not go that easy, fatal
road by which so many girls have travelled ; girls
whose stories she knew, girls who had been
shining lights in the parish school, model students
in the Scripture classes, white-veiled saints at con-
firmation. She would not do as they had done,
yield to the first tempter.

If her mother had gone wrong, there was so much
the more reason that she should cleave to the right.


She fought that hard fight between love and
honour, but the agony of the strife was bitter, and
it aged and hardened her. She hardened still
more when she saw her lover transferring his
liking to anotber woman. She was keen to note
the progress of that treacherous love. Helen had
found her the handiest and cleverest of the house-
maids^ and had preferred her services to those of
any one else. And while she assisted at Beauty^s
toilet, Madge had ample opportunity to note the
phases of Beauty's mind, and to discover the kind
of intellect that worked behind that classic
forehead, and the quality of the heart which beat
under that delicately moulded bust.

She found Colonel DeverilFs daughter shallow
and fickle and false. She discovered her treason —
had seen her with Valentine just often enough to
be sure of their treachery against Adrian. And
by this time she had discovered Adrian's infinite
superiority to his brother in all the higher
attributes of manhood. She knew this, yet she
had not wavered. Her nature was too intense for
the possibility of fickleness or inconstancy. She


loved with purpose and sincerity, as well as with
passion. There was no waveriDg in her affectioD,
yet she admired Adrian with a power of apprecia-
tion which was far in advance of her education.
Passing to and fro in the corridor near the library,
she had stopped from time to time to listen to
the organ or the piano, under those sympathetic
fingers. Music was a passion with her, and till
this time she had heard scarcely any music except
the church organ, indifferently played by a feeble
old organist. This music of Adrian^s was a reve-
lation in its infinite variety, its lightness, its
solemnity, its unspeakable depths of feeling.

Once in the winter twilight she heard him
playing Gounod's ^' Faust,"*' gliding from number
to number, improvising in the darkness of the old
sombre room, where there was no light but the
glow of the fire. The lamp had not yet been
lighted in the corridor ; the other servants were
all at their tea ; Madge crouched in the embrasure
of the door, and drank in those sounds to her
heart's content.

When he played the ^' Dies Irae '^ she fell on


her knees, and had to wrestle with herself lest
she should burst into sobs.

In another of those solitary twilight hours,
while Helen and Valentine were out with the
hounds, he played " Don Giovanni/'' and again
Madge crouched in his doorway and drank in the
sweet sounds. The lighter music moved her
differently, yet in this there were airs that thrilled
her. There was an awfulness sometimes in the
midst of the lightness. When the spring came
and the afternoons were light she could no longer
lurk in the corridor ; but her attic was in a gable
above the library, and when Sir Adrian's windows
were open she could hear every note in the still
April air.

The sound of that music seemed a kind of link
between them, for apart as they were in all other
things, and over and above her jealousy on her
own account, she was angry and jealous for
Adrian's sake. She could have wept over him as
the victim of a woman's feebleness, a man's

And now she told herself that she had nothing


to love or care for upon this earth. He who had
wooed her with such passionate persistence a few
months ago had transferred his love to another.
She stood alone in the world ; and in her loneli-
ness her heart yearned for that erring mother^ of
whose face she had no memory.

She tried to penetrate the mists of vanished
years, to grope back to that infantine existence
before her grandfather had found her squatting
beside his hearth in the autumn twilight. He
had told her that she was old enough to talk a
little,, and to toddle about at his heels. Surely
she ought to be able to remember.

Yes, she had a kind of memory, so faint and
dim, that she could scarcely distinguish realities
from dreams in that remote past.

Yes, she remembered movement, constant move-
ment, rolling wheels, summer boughs, summer dust,
clouds of dust, white dust that choked her as she
lay asleep in that rolling home, amidst odours of
hay and straw. She remembered rain, endless
days of rain and greyness, dull, dreary days, when
she squatted on the loose straw at the bottom


of a gipsy's van^ staring out at a duil^ dim

There was a dog, which she was fond of. The
sensation of a dog^s warm, friendly tongue licking
her face always recalled those long, slow hours of
dull grey rain or sunlit dust ; that strange vague
time in which the days rolled into the nights,
without difference or distinction, and in which
faces mixed themselves somehow, no one face
being more vivid than another. There was no
memory of a mother's face, bending over her in

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