An Excellent Offer by Marmaduke Blake

 

"It's an excellent offer—so plain and handsome!"

The above contradictory description was applied by Mrs. Gibbs to the contents of a letter which a few hours previously, had been received by her husband, Mr. John Gibbs, of Adelaide Crescent, Camberwell.

Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs were rather elderly: a stranger would have taken them to be brother and sister; for, having lived together during the greater part of a long life, not only had their habits and modes of thought become congenial, but even the expression of their respective features had assumed a strong resemblance.

On the evening in which it is our purpose to introduce the reader to their acquaintance, Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs occupied the precise position which they had at the same hour occupied evening after evening for the preceding forty years; that is, Mrs. Gibbs was by the side of the table with her "work," and Mr. Gibbs sate with his feet upon the fender, an open book by his side, on which his spectacles were deposited, while his body was assuming a backward inclination, which was occasionally checked by a sudden bobbing forward of the head, accompanied by a pulmonary effort of a most profound description.

"A little more, and I should have been asleep," said Mr. Gibbs; and, as the remark had escaped from the lips of that gentleman once every evening during nearly half a century, it did not seem to Mrs. Gibbs to call for any particular reply.

"I was speaking, my dear," said she, "of Mr. Paine's offer."

"And I," responded Mr. Gibbs, "was thinking upon the very same subject at the moment when you spoke; I was thinking that we must keep our eyes open to the advantages which are now presented."

Mr. Gibbs took a glass of wine, resumed his horizontal position, and seemed disposed to nod.

"Well, my dear,—now do rouse up,—if we are to accept Mr. Paine as a son-in-law, what will young Langton say to us?"

"I hope," said Mr. Gibbs, rubbing his eyes and yawning most uncomfortably,—"I hope Mr. Langton doesn't dream——"

"Why, my dear," interrupted the lady, "you must allow, we have given him a little encouragement."

"Not at all—not at all," was the reply; "nothing could be further from my intention: if indeed he had such an idea as you seem to intimate, I'm sure it has never been encouraged by me; he may have fancied otherwise, but anything of the sort on my part was mere manner, I assure you."

Mrs. Gibbs seemed satisfied, and the conversation on Mr. Paine's offer was resumed.

"He is so very respectable," said Mr. Gibbs, "and at a very suitable age for Caroline; two giddy people together would never do any good: I don't think much good ever comes of early marriages."

"We were neither of us of age when we married," interposed Mrs. Gibbs: "I hope you consider that case to have been an exception."

Mr. Gibbs was still dozy, and he nodded his head just at the right moment. The lady continued.

"If I were asked to choose a husband for my daughter, I shouldn't hesitate to give her Paine."

"Nor I either," replied Gibbs, who misunderstood his wife; "it would be entirely for her own good."

"He is a very pleasant man," ruminated Mrs. Gibbs.

"He has a thorough knowledge of the world, a great deal of philosophy, and——"

"A nice house in the Regent's Park."

We need not further pursue the interesting dialogue; suffice it to say that it terminated in a decision favourable to Mr. Paine, and a comfortable belief that if Mr. Charles Langton should go out of his mind, it would be entirely his own fault, as any encouragement which he might fancy to have been given, was only to be attributed to Mr. Gibbs's "manner."

Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs were "early people;" the clock struck ten, the housemaid and cook were heard ascending to their places of repose. Mrs. Gibbs followed, while her husband commenced, according to nightly custom, a perambulation in the dark, in order to see that everything was right; and having descended into the kitchen, and peeped into the cellar, and put his foot into a dish of water and red wafers set as a black-beetle trap, and knocked his forehead against a half-open door, he felt, as he said, satisfied in his mind, and could go to sleep in the most comfortable manner.

"What a beautiful night!" said the gentleman as he placed the extinguisher on his candle and the bright light of the moon entered his dressing-room. He manifested, however, no romantic desire to sit and watch her silent progress, so in a short time her beams were falling on the unconscious features of Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs.

The night was beautiful indeed,—so beautiful that we can only hope to bring it to the mind's eye of our matter-of-fact friends by stating that it was one of those evenings when the moon attains a brilliancy so extraordinary, that "you may see to pick up a pin;" having arrived at which point, we have been accustomed to believe lunar brightness can no further go.

The number of moonlight nights which shed their influence upon us during a passing year is of very small amount; and yet, when we suffer memory to look through "the waves of time," how much of moonlight is brought upon the mind. Day after day passes away, and although they give birth to new events and unlooked-for changes, yet they leave no more impression behind than we should experience after a survey of the fragmental patterns of a kaleidoscope,—each movement produces a variation, but there is nevertheless a general sameness of character which is altogether destructive of a permanent effect;—but in the lives of all men there have been moonlight "passages" which stand alone in their recollection, and which come upon them in after years, remembered as the periods when the heart, escaping from the stifling struggles of daily life, assumed a freer action,—moments in which they made resolutions which perhaps were broken, but which nevertheless it is some credit to them only to have made.

By daylight we are apt to consider mankind in the mass; by moonlight we invariably individualize,—we feel more deeply how mysteriously we stand, lonely in the midst of countless multitudes, and we draw more closely to our hearts those who have sought to lighten

"The heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world."

Reader, when you take a retrospect of life, we will answer for it that your fancy turns to some moonlight game with happy schoolfellows beneath a row of ancient elms, which threw their long cold shadows upon the greensward by the side of a village church. Let your fancy wander on, there is moonlight still: you roam, perchance, near the same church, and a gentle maiden is by your side; but you do not choose the elm-walk now, because the "school-boys" divert themselves thereon, and you prefer a semi-solitary stroll. Onward still: you are mixing in the bustle and heat of life; and there are moonlight hours when the thought of your vain career comes upon your mind, and you form in your heart new resolves, and pant with higher aspirations. Onward once more: and the scene is drawing to a close, the mist is on your sight, and memory wanders o'er a field of graves; and now how often do you lift your aching eyes to the silent and trembling stars, and suffer fancies to dwell upon your mind, that perchance from those orbs the spirits of the dead may be permitted to look down!

We only intended to venture a few words upon this subject, but we are afraid that we have written a "discourse."

There is a range of hill running from Westerham to Sevenoaks, the neighbourhood of which abounds with quiet scenery of surpassing beauty; and during the period in which Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs's dialogue took place, the young lady to whom it referred was indulging in a pleasant stroll in the garden of a cottage which stood in one of the little valleys at the foot of this range, and in which dwelt the parents of the young gentleman who was the companion of her walk, and who was the identical person whom Mr. Gibbs so strenuously stated to have received no "encouragement" whatever.

They wandered round a lawn encircled by a shrubbery path, which was glittering in the silver light: they were very silent, but they felt all that youth can feel, although an occasional exclamation of "How beautiful this is!" was all that mutually escaped their lips. A midsummer night and a garden-path are capable of imparting much power to the most delicate young ladies; and instances are by no means rare of some who would have shrunk from the prospect of an excursion extending to a mile from home, who will nevertheless stroll unrepiningly in company with a cousin or a friend two or three hundred times round a gravel-walk!

There was a happy family within doors,—brothers and sisters,—the light from the cottage-windows shining on the shrubs in front, and the merry laugh sounding from within: occasionally they were interrupted in their stroll, and messages were sent to know "whether they were coming in,—and that the grass was wet, and the night-air dangerous, and Miss Gibbs very delicate," &c. &c. &c.; to which messages replies were given that "they were not walking on the grass, and that the air was exceedingly mild, and that Miss Gibbs had a headache, and found herself better out of doors;" and then they were told that it was past ten o'clock,—and they promised to come in directly; and Mr. Langton only asked Caroline to take one turn more, and during that time he took Miss Gibbs's arm; and then he must walk once more round, and "this should positively be the last;" and so they took another turn, and this time his arm gently encircled her waist; and as they came in, there was a little hesitation while they were scraping their feet, and Caroline upon entering looked a little confused, and Mr. Langton seemed remarkably buoyant, and he rattled on for an hour or two, till his mother declared that there was "no getting him to bed;" and after Caroline and his mother and sisters had retired, he entered into an elaborate speech to his father concerning his prospects in life, which was only discontinued upon the discovery that his respectable parent had been asleep for upwards of an hour.

The reader who compares the stern reality of our opening scene with the poetic character of that by which it was succeeded, will have little difficulty in anticipating the result: the first disclosed the decision upon a plan which it had long been the chief object of a worldly man to effect; the latter was the idle dream of a boy and girl who knew nothing of the world, and still less of themselves.

On the morning subsequent to his moonlight walk, cool reflection had operated on the mind of Mr. Langton so far as to reduce the ardour with which he desired to communicate to his father his design of immediately entering into some active pursuit, with the view of sharing with an amiable partner an income which he was quite sure he could not fail to realize, but which as yet existed only in his own imagination. Nevertheless, although the daylight had thus produced its usual effect, and had given a matter-of-fact turn to his thoughts, he felt that he really did love Caroline, although it might be prudent to wait some few years before he made a formal declaration to that effect. Like most other young persons, he imagined that it was the easiest thing in the world to live on with unshaken affection, however distant might be the realization of his hopes: he was little aware of the numberless and apparently trivial influences which, during a period of prolonged separation or suspense, tend effectually to give a new colour to the views of those who have thus drawn upon futurity.

As he seated himself at the breakfast-table, he received from Caroline, in return for one of those

"Looks and signs
We see and feel, but none defines,"

a very kind glance, which assured him that he was the object of kind thoughts: he fancied that Fate had already twined the wreath that was to bring their happy fortune within one bright round,—that their love would be sanctified by the very difficulties with which he might have to contend before he could make her his wife,—that, with her as the reward of his exertions, he could not fail to succeed, and that to her influence alone he should proudly attribute whatever honours he might ultimately gain:—that look across the breakfast-table, unobserved by others, was the source from whence his imagination found no difficulty in tracing the Nile-like current of his future career!

We want to compress into one paper, events which were brought about by the course of several years; we must therefore hurry the reader over a few facts which perhaps he will have anticipated already.

Shortly after the consultation between Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs, Caroline received a letter from them, written in a tone of more than ordinary affection, interweaved with some little sermon-like passages touching the implicit obedience which children should at all times bestow upon their parents, and enforcing the same by the observation that those who had lived in the world nearly sixty years must of course in that time have acquired a nice sensibility of the manner in which to deal with the affections of the young. It concluded by requiring her immediate return to town; it gave their best love to Mr. and Mrs. Langton, and their compliments to Mr. Charles.

On Caroline's return the arrangements respecting Mr. Paine were fully detailed. Caroline cried, and Mrs. Gibbs said it was very natural she should dislike to leave her mother,—that she would consult her wishes in every way,—that she lived only in the happiness of her child, but that she must insist upon her acceptance of Mr. Paine: and then Caroline's friends were entreated to come and see her as often as possible, and they were particularly requested by Mrs. Gibbs not to put any idle fancies into her head which might prejudice her against the match; and one young lady of four-and-thirty, who had once possessed some charms, and who had flirted away all her chances, was desired to come and "cheer her up" whenever she could find time: the said young lady having for the last five years been in the habit of expressing a contempt for very young men, and an extreme desire to become the wife of some "nice old gentleman who kept his carriage."

After the detail of these circumstances, it will not be thought surprising that at a period of seven years from the opening of our story Caroline had long been the wife of Mr. Paine; and, having become the mother of three children, had made every effort, although perhaps she had not succeeded, to forget the moonlight walk in which she had been "so happy" with Charles Langton.

Mr. Paine was a merchant. His father, who had been a warehouseman in Friday-street, had, as is the custom of warehousemen, amassed a considerable fortune; and, although he had not been known to think very highly of himself while he was in indifferent circumstances, his own estimate of his value as a man, gradually grew with the strength of his pocket. His friends considered this a very proper view, and towards the end of his life he became much respected. Some time before his death he had purchased for his son a partnership in a house of "high standing," in which that gentleman had gradually risen from junior partner until he became the head of the firm. He inherited along with his father's wealth a great similarity of disposition; and his ideas of the importance of the "house," and consequently of his own importance as the head of the firm, had become the all-absorbing feature of his mind. Now this, although it told with admirable effect in Broad-street, was scarcely calculated to astonish his West-end connexions, nor was it likely to give that freedom of manner which forms the peculiar charm of domestic life.

Mr. Paine, on account of his mercantile standing, had been elected to a directorship of a prosperous insurance company; and as he was accustomed to look in daily at the office of the establishment, where he found himself surrounded by bowing clerks, and porters in bright waistcoats, who never heard a whisper from his voice without raising their hands to their hats, he became very deeply impressed with the idea that he really was an extraordinary person. No doubt he was so; but it was the misfortune of Mr. Paine that he never contemplated that "unbending of the bow" which is rather necessary to make home happy, and consequently when he returned from town he was cold and formal, in order to produce an impression on his servants, similar to that which gratified him in the City; and when he took his seat at the dinner-table there was hardly any variation from the manner which characterised him as chairman at the weekly meetings of the company, each remark being delivered in a style which sounded very much like a Resolution of "the Board."

Men choose their acquaintances as they choose their wives, and are very apt to select those whose qualities differ most widely from their own. Acting upon this principle, Mr. Paine had become intimate with a person to whom he condescended in a more than ordinary degree.

This person was Mr. Hartley Fraser, an unmarried man, at about the middle, or, as it is very pleasantly termed, the prime of life. He was of good family and small income; which latter circumstance he always assigned as the cause of his determination to live single, although it was attributed by some to a habit of ease and self-indulgence which he was now not disposed to correct. He knew and liked everybody in the world; and his philanthropy was not thrown away, for he was universally sought after, and in the making up of parties was always spoken of as a very desirable man. He humoured the foibles and flattered the caprices of his friends; the ladies liked him because he was "so useful," and the men spoke well of him because he never became a rival. He had always avowed his intention of remaining unwived, since, to use his own words, he found that he could drag on quietly enough with six or seven hundred a year as a bachelor, and he felt no inclination to go back in the world by becoming the proprietor of an expensive wife and a needy "establishment."

His manner, which, as we have already stated, was quite antithetical to Mr. Paine's, was as easy and kind as possible; and his stiff friend was never able to unravel the means by which, in the absence of a cast-iron stateliness, he invariably seemed to produce a feeling of deference in the minds of those with whom he came in contact. Though professing poverty, he never borrowed. His appearance was extremely good; while in conversation he rarely spoke of himself, and, if ever he did so, it was with an air of so little reserve, that his hearer could not help entertaining an idea that he was the most candid person in the world.

Mr. Paine felt quite proud of his popular acquaintance; and, as pride was the only attribute through which it was possible to gratify or wound that gentleman's feelings, of course he entertained as much regard for him as he could under any circumstances feel for any one. Fraser was therefore a frequent visitor at his house, which, despite of the governor's formality, was pleasant enough, for Caroline was always kind and cheerful, and "the children" were never visible.

Mr. Fraser soon became aware that his visits were rendered more frequent by the attraction of Caroline's society, while she could not sometimes help acknowledging to herself that her husband's selfish coldness was not placed in the most favourable light by a contrast with his agreeable friend. This was a dangerous discovery; but just at the period when it might have led to serious inroads on her happiness, an accident occurred which gave a new turn to her thoughts, and which tended to a catastrophe as unforeseen as it was fatal.

At an early hour in the afternoon a servant who had charge of the children would frequently request permission to take the eldest, a fine boy six years of age, for a short walk. Her consideration for the health and mental improvement of her young charge invariably induced her to wend her way to Oxford-street, where, by a strange coincidence, she invariably met a young gentleman in a flour-sprinkled jacket who emerged from a neighbouring baker's, and with whom, though they only met on these occasions, it afterwards appeared she was "keeping company." During the period of their conversation the child was told to "play about;" and, with that inherent love of liberty which dwells in the human mind, the boy made a point of availing himself of this permission by forthwith getting into all those spots which at other times he had been taught to shun. Occasionally a foot would become fixed between the iron gratings of an area in such a manner that he was unable to extract it; and then he would immediately roar as though he had been placed there by some tyrannical nursery-maid, and a crowd would collect to sympathise with his pangs, and at length to witness his extrication. At other times the gutter would seem to offer irresistible attraction; and in all cases the attentive guardian to whom he was entrusted consented not to tell her "missus" of his delinquencies if he would promise not to say a word about the young man from the baker's. This system was carried on till it had nearly terminated in a serious event. The child, having on one occasion stepped off the footway, was thrown down in attempting to escape from a carriage that was furiously approaching: in another instant the horses would have trampled upon him, had not a young man who observed his frightful situation rushed, heedless of danger, to the horses' heads, and, with the aid of the coachman, arrested their progress. The stranger learned from the boy his name and residence, conveyed him home, and, after giving an account of the accident, left a card with the footman to whom he delivered the child. About an hour afterwards the guardian angel returned in great alarm, when she was immediately favoured with unlimited leave of absence, and thereby enabled, literally as well as metaphorically, to "keep company" with her interesting friend.

On the following morning, a paragraph, which ran as follows, decorated the columns of the Morning Post.

"Yesterday, as Lady Crushmore's carriage was going down Oxford-street, it nearly passed over a child who had fallen before the horses: the boy was, however, rescued by a person who happened to witness his perilous situation. We merely notice the circumstance in order that we may have the satisfaction of recording a noble instance of humanity on the part of Lady Crushmore, who would not suffer the coachman to drive on until he had inquired whether the child was hurt."

It would be impossible to describe Caroline's feelings when she received the account of the accident: she took the card which had been left by the stranger, but in the excitement of the moment she did not heed the name, and, throwing it on one side, she pressed the terrified boy to her breast with hysteric minglings of tears and laughter. That afternoon Mr. Paine returned in company with Fraser; and, as he entered, he received an account of what had happened. He was by no means moved, but went into the matter, and asked questions in a most cool and dignified manner.

"Really," he said, "I think this is a case we ought not to look over; and therefore I must move, that is, I would suggest, that the boy should receive a very severe whipping."

The motion, not being seconded, fell to the ground, and Mr. Paine continued,

"Have you learned the name of the person by whom he was accompanied home?"

Caroline recollected the card, and, without looking at it, handed it to her husband.

"Langton—Charles Langton, Raymond Buildings," ruminated Mr. Paine; "I don't know the name."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Caroline; "Charles Langton?"

"Yes, my dear; is there anything so extraordinary in the name—is he any connexion of your family?"

"Yes—no—that is, my father had a very old friend of the name of Langton, who lived near Sevenoaks."

"Ah," said the amiable Paine, who prided himself on the sarcastic, "Raymond Buildings are within a stone's throw of Sevenoaks."

Mr. Paine had not observed any great peculiarity in Caroline's manner; but he was excessively fond of giving utterance to an occasional sneer, which was the highest effort of his conversational power. But with Fraser, who had been a silent spectator of the scene, the emotion which Caroline betrayed when the card was read did not pass unnoticed or unremembered.

Mr. Paine having on the subsequent day made strict inquiries as to the respectability of the man who had saved his child, condescended to forward a note of thanks and an invitation to dine. This was immediately accepted, for Langton was not ignorant that the mother of the boy was his early friend; and, although circumstances were so sadly altered, he could not resist an opportunity of renewing the acquaintance.

The dinner to which he thus had the honour of being invited, went off rather flatly. There was a large party, principally composed of that class of persons who get their heads muddled in wool and tallow speculations during the day, and who attempt to become particularly brilliant and exclusive in the evening, when unfortunately it generally happens that, despite their best exertions,

"Let them dress, let them talk, let them act as they will,
The scent of the city will hang round them still."

Fraser, to whom Mr. Paine always looked as the enlivener of his otherwise cold dinners, was on this occasion unusually quiet, Langton and Caroline were mutually embarrassed, and Mr. Paine's platitudes grew more and more tiresome, till at length, when the dessert made its appearance, he took an opportunity of effecting an elaborate speech, the object of which was to impress upon his friends the sensation which would have been created if the eldest child and only son of Mr. Paine, of the firm of Paine, Grubb, and Jones, had been the victim of any serious accident, and the gratitude which in consequence they ought to entertain to the person by whom such an event had been arrested.

"A shock so calamitous," he said, "has been averted by the intrepid conduct of Mr. Langton; and I must therefore beg that he will accept the cordial thanks of this meeting,—that is, of myself and friends,—for the courage and presence of mind which he so seasonably displayed."

This speech exhibited such a style of pompous foolery, that during its delivery Fraser was tempted to glance at Caroline with peculiar significance, which seemed to intimate a considerable degree of contempt for her husband, and an idea that a similar feeling could not be altogether a stranger to her bosom.

Langton observed all this; and although it was with little surprise, for he knew that love is more easily alienated by pride than any other sentiment, yet he could not help feeling the most sincere regret that Caroline had entered upon that dangerous path, the first step of which is the condescending to show to any man a feeling of this nature.

"I have not learned to love her less," he said, when afterwards meditating on this circumstance, "and I love her too well to see her comfort or fame lightly lost while it may be in my power to save her. It was always her nature to be easily led by the influence of others; and although her pliant disposition may have linked her destiny with one whom it is evident she can never love, yet she may still be saved from a more fearful sacrifice. I will see her, and in the recollection of our early friendship, as well as in the recent claim which I have acquired upon her feelings, I will venture to speak boldly and sincerely. In warning her of the precipice on which she stands, she must not, however, be violently aroused to a sense of danger which perhaps she has not yet acknowledged to herself. I must first gently win her back to that spirit of confidence which we formerly knew, and, if I succeed in my ultimate aim, how slight in comparison will seem the peril from which I have saved the child, to that from which I shall have rescued the mother!"

Alas! that the morality of the young, which is so strong in thought, should be so weak in practice as it ever is. Here was another stone added to that pavement which is said to be composed of good intentions.

From this time he became a frequent visitor in the Regent's Park, and the result of this course will be best given in the description of an interview between himself and Caroline which took place about three months afterwards.

"Caroline," said he, as during a morning call, which had been prolonged to a most unfashionable extent, he sate alone by her side, "I find you the same kind being that you always were; it is from that tenderness of feeling, which under happier circumstances would have given additional value to your character, that I now dread an inroad on your peace. You confess that you are wearied with the cold and monotonous routine of your daily life, and that it is your fate to be linked with one who is incapable of understanding or returning any deep emotion of the heart; can you then wonder that I should tremble for your peace, when I see you flattered by the attentions of a man from whom I am afraid you have not been sufficiently discreet to conceal the disquiet which you suffer?"

"Indeed, indeed you have mistaken me," exclaimed Caroline. "I have neither been flattered by his attention, nor have I in any way confided in him: to you only have I spoken thus. I was wrong, very wrong, in doing so; but you entreated me to speak without reserve, and it is hardly kind of you now to tax me with the fault." As she said this, the tears started to her eyes, and as Langton gazed upon her he knew that the very confidence which had appeared so dangerous when he imagined it to be given to another, was now unreservedly bestowed upon himself: did he remember his indignant anticipations of broken happiness and degraded character on the part of Caroline, or did he apply to himself those rules which he had deemed so necessary to be considered by another? Alas! no. He took her hand, and said in a voice which faltered with emotion,

"Caroline, dear Caroline, I cannot bear to see you give way thus. Come, come, we must not have any tears: you may be very happy yet."

"No," she said, making a vain attempt to repress her sobs, "I do not hope to be happy,—I have not deserved to be so; for I knew, when they wished me joy on my wedding-day, that my happiness was gone for ever. But I must not talk thus to you, Charles; I have no right to trouble you with sorrows of my own seeking. Besides," she continued, smiling bitterly through her tears, "you are about to be married to one who cannot fail to love you, and I must claim no share in your thoughts. Believe me, I will conquer every emotion that you desire to be repressed. I will endeavour to be all that you would wish to see me,—indeed I will: only tell me that you are not offended,—that you do not think less kindly of me than you have always done,—and that you will sometimes think of her who, while she lives, can never cease to think and pray for you." She buried her face in her hands and wept bitterly. "Don't, don't speak to me now," she said, as her tears flowed more quickly; and Langton, taking her hand, felt them falling on his own. At that moment he considered himself pre-eminently wretched; he pressed her head upon his shoulder, bidding her be more calm, and, as he imprinted one kiss upon her forehead,—a servant entered the room.

"Did you ring, sir?"

"No!" said Langton furiously, and the intruder disappeared. Servants always think you ring at the very moment when you wish you were in a wilderness!

The party who received Mr. Langton's impetuous negative was a fat housemaid of extreme sensibility; and as the sensibility of housemaids is usually concentrated upon themselves, of course, in the description of the indignity she had received, any very delicate consideration for the character of her mistress could not be expected to find a place. A committee was immediately formed in the pantry, where she related the "undelicate" conduct of that lady to her sympathising colleagues, and several strong resolutions were immediately carried expressive of their unqualified admiration of virtue in general, and their particular disapprobation of the deviation from its strict rules which had just been detailed; but as the said committee could not perceive any particular benefit to themselves that was likely to result from a disclosure to Mr. Paine, they determined to let the matter drop, and merely to suffer it to exist as an occasional topic to give intensity to those sublime denunciations of the wickedness of their betters in which they were accustomed to indulge round the kitchen fire, when their thoughts were glowing beneath the stimulus of an occasional bottle of wine which had been abstracted from the cellars of their "injured master."

Of course, however, it was not to be expected that the knowledge of the circumstance should be concealed from their immediate circle of acquaintance; and as the green-grocer wished he might drop if he ever breathed a syllable about it, and the milkwoman thanked Heaven that she never was a mischief-maker, of course the insulted housemaid "didn't mind telling them," upon their promise of profound secrecy; which was especially necessary, as, with the exception of the servants on each side of Mr. Paine's, and the nurserymaid opposite, not a soul knew a word about the matter.

Now it so happened that the watchful being who had been discharged on account of the affair in Oxford-street, was one of those amiable characters by whom forgiveness of injuries is accounted a duty. She had carried out this principle so far, that, although she had been desired never to enter the house again, she would occasionally call after dark to see her old fellow-servants, with whom she would sometimes take a glass of ale, in order to show how completely she had subdued those feelings of animosity which she might be expected to entertain towards the person at whose cost it was provided. She always seemed to take the same interest in the family as she had formerly done, and, with a spirit of Christian charity which did honour to her nature, she would sometimes declare "that although they had injured her, yet she hoped it would never come home to them."

Any concealment from a person of this disposition was of course unnecessary; and, when she was made acquainted with the circumstance, her horror was unlimited. "Poor Mr. Paine, who was so much of a gentleman!—and Mrs. Paine, too, who always seemed to love the dear children so!—who would take care of them now?—and then that Mr. Langton, she always said from the first she never liked him! But no," she continued, her goodness of disposition again overmastering every other feeling, "I won't believe it,—I can't do so; though I know, Mary, that you wouldn't tell a falsehood for the world, and, if you couldn't speak well of anybody, would rather say nothin' at all."

The reader will be surprised to learn that, although Mr. Paine's servants had acted with such praiseworthy reserve, a letter was received by that gentleman at the insurance office of which he was chairman, (the seal bearing the royal arms, which had been produced by the application of a sixpence; and the post-mark giving indications of the existence of a place called "Goswell-street Road,") the purport of which was as follows:

"Sir,—Nothin but my ankziety for your peas of mind could indews me to writ this letter, which i am afeard will set your fealings in a flame, & cause you grate distres. i am sorry to say your confidens is abused, and that you have little idere of the fallshood which will be found in what i am goin to relate.

"Your wife is untrew—the young man who pickt up Master Eddard when he would run into the rode, is one of her old bows. You may depend upon my assurance, for altho' there is an animus signatur at the bottem of this, the writer is a steddy young woman and knows what wickedness is.

"If you don't take warnin by what I have writ you will peraps be unhappy all the rest of your days, and so I hope you will.

"From your sincere well-wisher,

"J.J."

It is said that, for the deprivation of one sense, compensation is not unfrequently given by an increased action which is acquired to the remainder; and those who have seen men cut off from the enjoyment of some long-cherished feeling at the moment when its gratification seemed most essential to their happiness, must have admired the benevolence with which Providence has thus bestowed upon the mind a capability, when it is deprived of one pursuit, of falling back with redoubled ardour upon another. But Mr. Paine was an exception to this rule; he was rather the incarnation of a single feeling than a sharer in the complicated emotions of mankind. Pride was the only thing that he was conscious of,—the one point from which all his ideas radiated; and, when this was destroyed, his existence might virtually be considered at an end.

From the moment that he had received the wretched scrawl, the alteration which took place in this unhappy man was of the most extraordinary kind. He had never been suspicious, for, loveless though he was, the possibility that his wife could sink to frailty had never entered into his mind; but, when the idea was once aroused, he seemed without hesitation to receive it as a truth; and that that truth should be forced upon him by the agency of a person who was evidently of the lowest class was an aggravation of the keenest kind. His spirit was from that day broken. Homage seemed a mockery, for he felt that the most despised among those who showed him reverence possessed a more enviable lot than it could ever be his fate to know again.

For a few days the secret remained fixed in his own heart,—that heart which had sought to citadel itself in its indomitable pride, and which was now crushed and powerless. At length to Fraser, by whom his altered manner had been remarked, he ventured to ask, with an air of forced coldness, "Whether it had ever occurred to him that Mr. Langton had been in the habit of paying more than proper attentions to the mother of the boy whom he had rescued?—he did not mean to hint that those attentions had been encouraged or received—that of course was out of the question; but still——"

He hesitated; and Fraser, deceived by the quietude of his manner, thought it a very good opportunity to say a few words upon a subject that had given him some little annoyance. He readily avowed "that he entertained no very high opinion of the gentleman in question, but" (of course) "his opinion of Mrs. Paine's correct feeling was so strong that he thought the matter need cause very little discomfort. Nevertheless, he imagined it would be as well to intimate to Mr. Langton that his constant attendance in the Regent's Park was no longer expected or desired."

This was the confirmation that was sought—the vulgar letter was accurate enough—all the world were pointing at him. Fraser had noticed it, but in delicacy to his feelings, and in gallantry to his wife, had forborne to speak more explicitly: he had no remedy; wronged as he was, he had no remedy. He might go into a court of justice, and there, in consideration of his shame being recorded upon oath, he might receive a sum equal to about a tithe of his yearly income. He might kill the man; and then also the world, with whom suspicion only might exist at present, would be certified of the fact. No; his course was run,—there was but one way left for him to pursue.

It was dusk on a summer's evening, a few days after this, that Caroline and Langton met for the last time.

"Charles," she said, "it is not a resolution lightly formed; it has cost me a struggle which I knew I should experience, but which I never expected to have conquered, you must not see me more! Nay, do not utter one word of remonstrance; you may by so doing make the separation more bitter, but you cannot shake my resolution. I dare not trust myself to say all that now rushes to my mind; yet, perhaps, parting as we do for ever, I may be forgiven for saying that I always loved you: this I could not help; but, with such a feeling, I ought to have shown more strength of mind than to have sacrificed your happiness and my own even to a parent's wish. I failed to do so, and it is right that the penalty should be borne. Farewell! You can appreciate all that I now suffer, and you will tell me that you love me better for the determination which I have made. Believe me, a time will come when you will praise God that I had sufficient strength to endure the agony of this trial. We have been very foolish,—we ought never to have met; but thank Heaven that, having met, we have escaped from guilt. There, now leave me—pray leave me, and——"

At this moment they were interrupted by a hasty knock at the street-door; they stood still for a moment: it was Mr. Paine. He seemed, upon entering, to make some inquiries of the servant: he ascended the stairs, paused for an instant at the drawing-room door, as if about to open it, and then with a hurried step ascended to his dressing-room above. Caroline and Langton moved not; they seemed to dread some coming event, and yet they had no definite ground for fear. Several minutes elapsed: at length Langton smiled and was about to speak, when they heard a heavy, lumbering fall upon the floor above, followed by a long, low groan, the sound of which was never afterwards forgotten.

We willingly draw a veil over the circumstances of this scene, and have only now to detail the events to which it ultimately led.

The parting between Caroline and Langton on that dreadful night was final: he made an attempt to see her once more during the period of her suffering, but this she positively refused. The suicide of her unhappy husband caused some little talk at the time; but as it was proved, to the satisfaction of a coroner's jury, that his death took place on a Wednesday, and that upon that day he had written a short note which he had dated "Thursday," they without hesitation returned a verdict of "Temporary Insanity," and the newspapers saw no reason for departing from their usual plan, by attributing the rash act to any other cause than the unsuccessful result of some speculations on the Stock Exchange.

The world, (that is to say, those immediate connexions who became acquainted with the circumstances of the case,) upon a retrospect of the affair, condemned Mr. Paine for his pride, Mr. Fraser for his politeness, and Caroline and Langton for their indiscretion;—the only persons mentioned in our story with whom the said "world" found no fault were—Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs!

Mr. Paine had made no alteration in his will, and a large portion of his property was left to his widow during her life. Caroline passed some years in deep seclusion, devoting herself to the education of her children, and seeking consolation in the exercises of religion, wherein alone she could hope that it might be found. She died at the commencement of the present year; and an extract from a letter addressed to Langton, which was discovered among her papers, may serve to conclude her history, and to impart a moral which may not be altogether vain.

"You will perhaps be surprised at this request," (she had entreated that he would undertake the guardianship of her children,) "but, after all that I have suffered, I could not feel one moment's peace if I thought it possible that in the course of events a similar fate might attend upon them. Edward will require little care,—to the girls my anxiety is directed: the destiny of women is too often fixed when they possess little power of judging wisely for themselves; and, even if they should possess this power, strength of character is required to enable them to resist all other influences, and to abide firmly by the judgment they have formed. Remembering that my fate was thus rendered unhappy, you will not hesitate to guard my children against the misery I have endured. Watch over them, I entreat you; and let that love which, when it was bestowed upon me, could lead only to sorrow, descend upon them with the consciousness of purity. I know that you will do this; I know, above all, that in affairs of the heart you will consult their feelings of affection rather than their dreams of pride; and while, on the one hand, you prohibit a union that might degrade them, you will, on the other, be equally cautious never to enforce the acceptance of 'an excellent offer.'"