AND OTHER TALES.
M. E. BRADDON
AUTHOR OF "LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET," "ROBERT AINSLEIGH," ETC.
A. ASHER & CO., PUBLISHERS,
DR. AND MRS. BEAMAN,
THE AUTHOR'S OLD AND VALUED FRIENDS,
IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
MILLY DARRELL — PAGE 1
OLD RUDDERFORD HALL — PAGE 179
THE SPLENDID STRANGER — PAGE 235
I BEGIN LIFE.
I was just nineteen years of age when I began my career as articled
pupil with the Miss Bagshots of Albury Lodge, Fendale, Yorkshire. My
father was a country curate, with a delicate wife and four children, of
whom I was the eldest; and I had known from my childhood that the day
must come in which I should have to get my own living in almost the
only vocation open to a poor gentleman's daughter. I had been fairly
educated near home, and the first opportunity that arose for placing me
out in the world had been gladly seized upon by my poor father, who
consented to pay the modest premium required by the Miss Bagshots, in
order that I might be taught the duties of a governess, and essay my
powers of tuition upon the younger pupils at Albury Lodge.
How well I remember the evening of my arrival!—a bleak dreary evening
at the close of January, made still more dismal by a drizzling rain
that had never ceased falling since I left my father's snug little
house at Briarwood in Warwickshire. I had had to change trains three
times, and to wait during a blank and miserable hour and a quarter, or
so, at small obscure stations, staring hopelessly at the advertisements
on the walls—advertisements of somebody's life-sustaining cocoa, and
somebody else's health-restoring cod-liver oil, or trying to read the
big brown-backed Bible in the cheerless little waiting-room; and
trying, O so hard, not to think of home, and all the love and happiness
I had left behind me. The journey had been altogether tiresome and
fatiguing; but, for all that, the knowledge that I was near my
destination brought me no sense of pleasure. I think I should have
wished that dismal journey prolonged indefinitely, if I could thereby
have escaped the beginning of my new life.
A lumbering omnibus conveyed me from the station to Albury Lodge, after
depositing a grim-looking elderly lady at a house on the outskirts of
the town, and a dapper-looking little man, whom I took for a commercial
traveller, at an inn in the market-place. I watched the road with a
kind of idle curiosity as the vehicle lumbered along. The town had a
cheerful prosperous air even on this wet winter night, and I saw that
there were two fine old churches, and a large modern building which I
supposed to be the town-hall.
We left the town quite behind us before we came to Albury Lodge; a very
large house on the high-road, a square red-brick house of the early
Georgian era, shut in from the road by high walls. The great
wrought-iron gates in the front had been boarded up, and Albury Lodge
was now approached by a little wooden side-door into a stone-flagged
covered passage that led to a small door at the end of the house. The
omnibus-driver deposited me at this door, with all my worldly
possessions, which at this period of my life consisted of two rather
small boxes and a japanned dressing-case, a receptacle that contained
all my most sacred treasures.
I was admitted by a rather ill-tempered-looking housemaid, with a cap
of obtrusive respectability and a spotless white apron. I fancied that
she looked just a little superciliously at my boxes, which I daresay
would not have contained her own wardrobe.
'O, it's the governess-pupil, I suppose?' she said. 'You was expected
early this afternoon, miss. Miss Bagshot and Miss Susan are gone out to
tea; but I can show you where you are to sleep, if you'll please to
step this way. Do you think you could carry one of your trunks, if I
carry the other?'
I thought I could; so the housemaid and I lugged them all the way along
the stone passage and up an uncarpeted back staircase which led from
the lobby into which the door at the end of the passage opened. We went
very high up, to the top story in fact, where the housemaid led me into
a long bare room with ten little beds in it. I was well enough
accustomed to the dreariness of a school dormitory, but somehow this
room looked unusually dismal.
There was a jet of gas burning at one end of the room, near a door
opening into a lavatory which was little more than a cupboard, but in
which ten young ladies had to perform their daily ablutions. Here I
washed my face and hands in icy-cold water, and arranged my hair as
well as I could without the aid of a looking-glass, that being a luxury
not provided at Albury Lodge. The servant stood watching me as I made
this brief toilet, waiting to conduct me to the schoolroom. I followed
her, shivering as I went, to a great empty room on the first floor. The
holidays were not quite over, and none of the pupils had as yet
returned. There was an almost painful neatness and bareness in place of
the usual litter of books and papers, and I could not help thinking
that an apartment in a workhouse would have looked quite as cheerful.
Even the fire behind the high wire guard seemed to burn in a different
manner from all home fires: a fact which I attributed then to some
sympathetic property in the coal, but which I afterwards found to be
caused by a plentiful admixture of coke; a slow sulky smoke went up
from the dull mass of fuel, brightened ever so little now and then by a
sickly yellow flame. One jet of gas dimly lighted this long dreary
room, in which there was no human creature but myself and my guide.
'I'll bring you some supper presently, miss,' the housemaid said, and
departed before I could put in a timid plea for that feminine luxury, a
cup of tea.
I had not expected to find myself quite alone on this first night of my
arrival, and a feeling of hopeless wretchedness came over me as I sat
down at one end of a long green-baize-covered table, and rested my head
upon my folded arms. Of course it was very weak and foolish, a bad
beginning of my new life, but I was quite powerless to contend against
that sense of utter misery. I thought of all I had left at home. I
thought of what my life might have been if my father had been only a
little better off: and then I burst out crying as if my heart were
Suddenly, in the midst of that foolish paroxysm, I felt a light hand
upon my shoulder, and looking up, saw a face bending over me, a face
full of sympathy and compassion.
O Milly Darrell, my darling, my love, how am I to describe you as you
appeared before my eyes that night? How poorly can any words of mine
paint you in your girlish beauty, as you looked down upon me in that
dimly-lighted schoolroom with divine compassion in your dark eloquent
Just at that moment I was so miserable and so inclined to be sulky in
my wretchedness, that even the vision of that bright face gave me
little pleasure. I pushed away the gentle hand ungraciously, and rose
hastily from my seat.
'Pray don't cry any more,' said the young lady; 'I can't bear to hear
you cry like that.'
'I'm not going to cry any more,' I answered, drying my eyes in a hasty,
angry way. 'It was very foolish of me to cry at all; but this place did
look so cheerless and dreary, and I began to think of my father and
mother, and all I had left behind me at home.'
'Of course it was only natural you should think of them. Everything
does seem so bleak and dismal the first night; but you are very happy
to have so many at home. I have only papa.'
'Indeed!' I said, not feeling deeply interested in her affairs.
I looked at her as she stood leaning a little against the end of the
table, and playing idly with a bunch of charms and lockets hanging to
her gold chain. She was very handsome, a brunette, with a small
straight nose, hazel eyes, and dark-brown hair. Her mouth was the
prettiest and most expressive I ever saw in my life, and gave an
indescribable charm to her face. She was handsomely dressed in violet
silk, with rich white lace about the throat and sleeves.
'You will find things much pleasanter when the girls come back. Of
course school is always a little dreary compared with home; one is
prepared for that; but I have no doubt you will contrive to be happy,
and I hope we shall be very good friends. I think you must be the Miss
Crofton I have heard spoken of lately?'
'Yes, my name is Crofton—Mary Crofton.'
'And mine is Emily Darrell. Milly I am always called at home, and by
any one who likes me. I am a parlour-boarder, and have the run of the
house, as it were. I am rather old to be at school, you see; but I am
going home at the end of this year. I was brought up at home with a
governess until about six months ago; but then papa took it into his
head that I should be happier amongst girls of my own age, and sent me
off to school. He has been travelling since that time, and so I have
not been home for the Christmas holidays. I can't tell you what a
disappointment that was.'
I tried to look sympathetic, and, not knowing exactly what to say, I
asked whether Miss Darrell's father lived in that neighbourhood.
'O dear, no,' she answered; 'he lives nearly a hundred miles away, in a
very wild part of Yorkshire, not far from the sea. But Thornleigh—that
is the name for our house—is a dear old place, and I like our bleak
wild country better than the loveliest spot in the world. I was born
there, you see, and all my happy memories of my childhood and my mother
are associated with that dear old home.'
'Is it long since you lost your mother?'
'Ten years. I loved her so dearly. There are some subjects about which
one dare not speak. I cannot often trust myself to talk of her.'
I liked her better after this. At first her beauty and her handsome
dress had seemed a little overpowering to me; I had felt as if she were
a being of another order, a bright happy creature not subject to the
common woes of life. But now that she had spoken of her own sorrows, I
felt that we were upon a level; and I stole my hand timidly into hers,
and murmured some apology for my previous rudeness.
'You were not rude, dear. I know I must have seemed very intrusive when
I disturbed you; but I could not bear to hear you crying like that. And
now tell me where you sleep.'
I described the room as well as I could.
'I know where you mean,' she said; 'it's close to my room. I have the
privilege of a little room to myself, you know; and on half-holidays I
have a fire there, and write my letters, or paint; and you must come
and sit with me on these afternoons, and we can be as happy as possible
together working and talking. Do you paint?'
'A little—in a schoolgirlish fashion kind of way.'
'Quite as well as I do, I daresay,' Miss Darrell answered, laughing
gaily, 'only you are more modest about it. O, here comes your supper;
may I sit with you while you eat it?'
'I shall be very glad if you will.'
'I hope you have brought Miss Crofton a good supper, Sarah,' she went
on in the same gay girlish way.—'Sarah is a very good creature, you
must know, Miss Crofton, though she seems a little grim to strangers.
That's only a way of hers: she can smile, I assure you, though you'd
hardly think so.'
Sarah's hard-looking mouth expanded into a kind of grin at this.
'There's no getting over you, Miss Darrell,' she said; 'you've got such
a way of your own. I've brought Miss Crofton some cold beef; but if
she'd like a bit of pickle, I wouldn't mind going to ask cook for it.
Cold meat does eat a little dry without pickle.'
This 'bit of pickle' was evidently a concession in my favour made to
please Emily Darrell. I thanked Sarah, and told her that I would not
trouble her with a journey to the cook. I was faint and worn-out with
my day's pilgrimage, and had eaten very little since morning; but the
most epicurean repast ever prepared by a French chef would have seemed
so much dust and ashes to me that night; so I sat down meekly to my
supper of bread and meat, and listened to Milly Darrell's chatter as I
Of course she told me all about the school, Miss Bagshot, and Miss
Susan Bagshot. The elder of these two ladies was her favourite. Miss
Susan had, in the remote period of her youth, been the victim of some
unhappy love-affair, which had soured her disposition, and inclined her
to look on the joys and follies of girlhood with a jaundiced eye. It
was easy enough to please Miss Bagshot, who had a genial matronly way,
and took real delight in her pupils; but it was almost impossible to
satisfy Miss Susan.
'And I am sorry to say that you will be a good deal with her,' Miss
Darrell said, shaking her head gravely; 'for you are to take the second
English class under her—I heard them say so at dinner to-day—and I am
afraid she will fidget you almost out of your life; but you must try to
keep your temper, and take things as quietly as you can, and I daresay
in time you will be able to get on with her.'
'I'm sure I hope so,' I answered rather sadly; and then Miss Darrell
asked me how long I was to be at Albury Lodge.
'Three years,' I told her; 'and after that, Miss Bagshot is to place me
somewhere as a governess.'
'You are going to be a governess always?'
'I suppose so,' I answered. The word 'always' struck me with a little
sharp pain, almost like a wound. Yes, I supposed it would be always. I
was neither pretty nor attractive. What issue could there be for me out
of that dull hackneyed round of daily duties which makes up the sum of
a governess's life?
'I am obliged to do something for my living,' I said; 'my father is
very poor. I hope I may be able to help him a little by and by.'
'And my father is so ridiculously rich. He is a great ironmaster, and
has wharves and warehouses, and goodness knows what, at North Shields.
How hard it seems!'
'What seems hard?' I asked absently.
'That money should be so unequally divided. Do you know, I don't think
I should much mind going out as a governess: it would be a way of
seeing life. One must meet with all sorts of adventures, going among
strangers like that.'
I looked at her as she smiled at me, with a smile that gave an
indescribable brightness to her face, and I fancied that for her indeed
there could be no form of life so dull that would not hold some
triumph, some success. She seemed a creature born to extract brightness
out of the commonest things, a creature to be only admired and
caressed, go where she might.
'You a governess!' I said, a little scornfully; 'you are not of the
clay that makes governesses.'
'You are much too pretty and too fascinating.'
'O, Mary Crofton, Mary Crofton—may I call you Mary, please? we are
going to be such friends—if you begin by flattering me like that, how
am I ever to trust you and lean upon you? I want some one with a
stronger mind than my own, you know, dear, to lead me right; for I'm
the weakest, vainest creature in the world, I believe. Papa has spoiled
'If you are always like what you are to-night, I don't think the
spoiling has done much mischief,' I said.
'O, I am always amiable enough, so long as I have my own way. And now
tell me all about your home.'
I gave her a faithful account of my brothers and my sister, and a brief
description of the dear old-fashioned cottage, with its white-plaster
walls crossed with great black beams, its many gables and quaint
latticed windows. I told her how happy and united we had always been at
home, and how this made my separation from those I loved so much the
harder to bear; to all of which Milly Darrell listened with most
Early the next day my new life began in real earnest. Miss Susan
Bagshot did not allow me to waste my time in idleness until the arrival
of my pupils. She gave me a pile of exercises to correct, and some
difficult needlework to finish; and I found I had indeed a sharp
taskmistress in this blighted lady.
'Girls of your age are so incorrigibly idle,' she said; 'but I must
give you to understand at once that you will have no time for dawdling
at Albury Lodge. The first bell rings a quarter before six, and at a
quarter past I shall expect to see you in the schoolroom. You will
superintend the younger pupils' pianoforte practice from that time till
eight o'clock, at which hour we breakfast. From nine till twelve you
will take the second division of the second class for English,
according to the routine arranged by me, which you had better copy from
a paper I will lend you for that purpose. After dinner you will take
the same class for two hours' reading until four; from four to five you
will superintend the needle-work class. Your evenings—with the
exception of the careful correction of all the day's exercises—will be
your own. I hope you have a sincere love of your vocation, Miss
I said I hoped I should grow to like my work as I became accustomed to
it. I had never yet tried teaching, except with my young sister and
brothers. My heart sank as I remembered our free-and-easy studies in
the sunny parlour at home, or out in the garden under the pink and
white hawthorns sometimes on balmy mornings in the early summer.
Miss Susan shook her head doubtfully.
'Unless you have a love of your vocation you will never succeed, Miss
Crofton,' she said solemnly.
I freely confess that this love she spoke of never came to me. I tried
to do my duty, and I endured all the hardships of my life in, I hope, a
cheerful spirit. But the dry monotony of the studies had no element of
pleasantness, and I used to wonder how Miss Susan could derive
pleasure—as it was evident she did—from the exercise of her authority
over those hapless scholars who had the misfortune to belong to her
class. Day after day they heard the same lectures, listened
submissively to the same reproofs, and toiled on upon that bleak bare
high-road to learning, along which it was her delight to drive them.
Nothing like a flower brightened their weary way—it was all alike dust
and barrenness; but they ploughed on dutifully, cramming their youthful
minds with the hardest dates and facts to be found in the history of
mankind, the dreariest statistics, the driest details of geography, and
the most recondite rules of grammar, until the happy hour arrived in
which they took their final departure from Albury Lodge, to forget all
they had learnt there in the briefest possible time.
How my thoughts used to wander away sometimes as I sat at my desk,
distracted by the unmelodious sound of Miss Susan's voice lecturing
some victim in her own division at the next table, while one of the
girls in mine droned drearily at Lingard, or Pinnock's Goldsmith, as
the case might be! How the vision of my own bright home haunted me
during those long monotonous afternoons, while the March winds made the
poplars rock in the garden outside the schoolroom, or the April rain
beat against the great bare windows!
It was not often that I had a half-holiday to myself, for Miss Susan
Bagshot seemed to take a delight in finding me something to do on these
occasions; but whenever I had, I spent it with Milly Darrell, and on
these rare afternoons I was perfectly happy. I had grown to love her as
I did not think it was in me to love any one who was not of my own
flesh and blood; and in so loving her, I only returned the affection
which she felt for me.
I am sure it was the fact of my friendlessness, and of my subordinate
position in the school, which had drawn this girl's generous heart
towards me; and I should have been hard indeed if I had not felt
touched by her regard. She soon grew indescribably dear to me. She was
of my own age, able to sympathize with every thought and fancy of mine;
the frankest, most open-hearted of creatures; a little proud of her
beauty, perhaps, when it was praised by those she loved, but never
proud of her wealth, or insolent to those whose gifts were less than
I used to write my home-letters in her room on these rare and happy
afternoons, while she painted at an easel near the window. The room was
small, but better furnished than the ordinary rooms in the house, and
it was brightened by all sorts of pretty things,—handsomely-bound
books upon hanging shelves, pictures, Dresden cups and saucers,
toilet-bottles and boxes, which Miss Darrell had brought from home.
Over the mantelpiece there was a large photograph of her father, and by
the bedside there hung a more flattering water-coloured portrait,
painted by Milly herself. It was a powerful and rather a handsome face,
but I thought the expression a little hard and cold, even in Milly's
She painted well, and had a real love of art. Her studies at Albury
Lodge were of rather a desultory kind, as she was not supposed to
belong to any class; but she had lessons from nearly half-a-dozen
different masters—German lessons, Italian lessons, drawing lessons,
music and singing lessons—and was altogether a very profitable pupil.
She had her own way with every one, I found, and I believe Miss Bagshot
was really fond of her.
Her father was travelling in Italy at this time, and did not often
write to her—a fact that distressed her very much, I know; but she
used to shake off her sorrow in a bright hopeful way that was peculiar
to her, always making excuses for the dilatory correspondent. She loved
him intensely, and keenly felt this separation from him; but the
doctors had recommended him rest and change of air and scene, she told
me, and she was glad to think he was obeying them.
Upon one of these half-holidays, when midsummer was near at hand, we
were interrupted by an unwonted event, in the shape of a visit from a
cousin of Milly's; a young man who occupied an important position in
her father's house of business, and of whom she had sometimes talked to
me, but not much. His name was Julian Stormont, and he was the only son
of Mr. Darrell's only sister, long since dead.
It was a sultry afternoon, and we were spending it in a rustic
summer-house at the end of a broad gravel that went the whole length of
the large garden. Milly had her drawing materials on the table before
her, but had not been using them. I was busy with a piece of fancy-work
which Miss Susan Bagshot had given me to finish. We were sitting like
this, when my old acquaintance Sarah, the housemaid, came to announce a
visitor for Miss Darrell.
Milly sprang to her feet, flushed with excitement.
'It must be papa!' she cried joyfully.
'Lor', no, miss; don't you go to excite yourself like that. It isn't
your pa; it's a younger gentleman.'
She handed Milly a card.
'Mr. Stormont!' the girl exclaimed, with a disappointed air; 'my cousin
Julian. I am coming to him, of course, Sarah. But I wish you had given
me the card at once.'
'Won't you go and do somethink to your hair, miss? most young ladies
'O yes, I know; there are girls who would stop to have their hair done
in Grecian plaits, if the dearest friend they had in the world was
waiting for them in the drawing-room. My hair will do well enough,
Sarah.—Come, Mary, you'll come to the house with me, won't you?'
'Lor', miss, here comes the gentleman,' said Sarah; and then decamped
by an obscure side-path.
'I had better leave you to see him alone, Milly,' I said; but she told
me imperatively to stay, and I stayed.
She went a little way to meet the gentleman, who seemed pleased to see
her, but whom she received rather coldly, as I thought. But I had not
long to think about it, before she had brought him to the summer-house,
and introduced him to me.
'My cousin Julian—Miss Crofton.'
He bowed rather stiffly, and then seated himself by his cousin's side,
and put his hat upon the table before him. I had plenty of time to look
at him as he sat there talking of all sorts of things connected with
Thornleigh, and Miss Darrell's friends in that neighbourhood. He was
very good-looking, fair and pale, with regular well-cut features, and
rather fine blue eyes; but I fancied those clear blue eyes had a cold
look, and that there was an expression of iron will about the mouth and
powerful prominent chin. The upper part of the face was thoughtful, and
there were lines already on the high white forehead, from which the
thin straight chestnut hair was carefully brushed. It was the face of a
very clever man, I thought; but I was not so sure that it was the face
of a man I could like, or whom I should be inclined to trust.
Mr. Stormont had a low pleasant voice and an agreeable manner of
speaking. His way of treating his cousin was half deferential, half
playful; but once, when I looked up suddenly from my work, I seemed to
catch a glimpse of a deeper meaning in the cold blue eyes—a look of
singular intensity fixed on Milly's bright face.
Whatever this look might mean, she was unconscious of it; she went on
talking gaily of Thornleigh and her Thornleigh friends.
'I do so want to come home, Julian,' she said. 'Do you think there is
any hope for me this midsummer?'
'I think there is every hope. I think it is almost certain you will
'O Julian, how glad I am!'
'But suppose there should be a surprise for you when you come home,
Milly,—a change that you may not quite like, at first?'
'Has your father told you nothing?'
'Nothing, except about his journeys from place to place, and not much
about them. He has written very seldom during the last six months.'
'He has been too much engaged, I suppose; and it's rather like him to
have said nothing about it. How would you like a stepmother, Milly?'
She gave a little cry, and grew suddenly pale.
'Papa has married again!' she said.
Julian Stormont drew a newspaper from his pocket, and laid it before
her, pointing to an announcement in one column:
'On May 18th, at the English legation in Paris, William Darrell, Esq.,
of Thornleigh, Yorkshire, to Augusta, daughter of the late Theodore
Chester, Esq., of Regent's Park.'
He read this aloud very slowly, watching Milly's pale face as he read.
'There is no reason why this should distress you, my dear child,' he
said. 'It was only to be expected that your father would marry again,
sooner or later.'
'I have lost him!' she cried piteously.
'Yes; he can never be again the same to me that he has been. His new
wife will come between us. No, Julian, I am not jealous. I do not
grudge him his happiness, if this marriage can make him happy. I only
feel that I have lost him for ever.'
'My dear Milly, that is utterly unreasonable. Your father told me most
particularly to assure you of his unaltered affection, when I broke the
news of this marriage to you. He was naturally a little nervous about
doing it himself.'
'You must never let him know what I have said, Julian. He will never
hear any expression of regret from me; and I will try to do my duty to
this strange lady. Have you seen her yet?'
'No, they have not come home yet. They were in Switzerland when I heard
of them last; but they are expected in a week or two. Come, my dear
Milly, don't look so serious. I trust this marriage may turn out for
your happiness, as well as for your father's. Rely upon it, you will
find no change in his feelings towards you.'
'He will always be kind and good to me, I know,' she answered sadly.
'It is not possible for him to be anything but that; but I can never be
his companion again as I have been. There is an end to all that.'
'That was a kind of association which could not be supposed to last all
your life, Milly. It is to be hoped that somebody else will have a
claim upon your companionship before many years have gone by.'
'I suppose you mean that I shall marry,' she said, looking at him with
'Something like that, Milly.'
'I have always fancied myself living all my life with papa. I have
never thought it possible that I could care for any one but him.'
Julian Stormont's face darkened a little, and he sat silent for some
minutes, folding and refolding the newspaper in a nervous way.
'You are not very complimentary to your admirers at Thornleigh,' he
said at last, with a short hoarse laugh.
'Who is there at Thornleigh? Have I really any admirers there?'
'I think I could name half-a-dozen.'
'Never mind them just now. I want you to tell me all you know about my
'That amounts to very little. All I can tell you is, that she is the
daughter of a gentleman, highly accomplished, without money, and
four-and-twenty years of age. She was travelling as companion to an
elderly lady when your father met her in a picture-gallery at Florence.
He knew the old lady, I believe, and by that means became acquainted
with the younger one.'
'Only four-and-twenty! only four years older than I!'
'Rather young, is it not? but when a man of your father's age makes a
second marriage, he is apt to marry a young woman. Of course this is
quite a love-match.'
'Yes, quite a love-match,' Milly repeated, with a sigh.
I knew she could not help that natural pang of jealousy, as she thought
how she and her father had once been all the world to each other. She
had told me so often of their happy companionship, the perfect
confidence that had existed between them.
Julian Stormont sat talking to her—and a little, a very little, to
me—for about half an hour longer, and then departed. He was to sleep
at Fendale, and go back to North Shields next morning. He was his
uncle's right hand in the business, Milly told me; and from the little
I had seen of him I could fancy him a power in any sphere.
'Papa has a very high opinion of him,' she said, when we were talking
of him after he had left us.
'And you like him very much, I suppose?'
'O yes, I like him very well. I have known him all my life. We are
almost like brother and sister; only Julian is one of those thoughtful
reserved persons one does not get on with very fast.'
The midsummer holidays began at last, and Mr. Darrell came in person to
fetch his daughter, much to her delight. She was not to return to
school any more unless she liked, he told her. Her new mamma was most
anxious to receive her, and she could have masters at Thornleigh to
complete her education, if it were not already finished.
Her eyes were full of tears when she came to tell me this, and carry me
off to the drawing-room to introduce me to her father, an introduction
she insisted upon making in spite of my entreaties,—for I was rather
shy at this period of my life, and dreaded an encounter with a stranger.
Mr. Darrell received me most graciously. He was a tall fine-looking
man, very like the photograph in Milly's bedroom, and I detected the
hard look about the mouth which I had noticed in both portraits. He
seemed remarkably fond of his daughter; and I have never seen a
prettier picture than she made as she stood beside him, clinging to his
arm, and looking lovingly up at him with her dark hazel eyes.
He asked me where I was to spend my holidays; and on hearing that I was
to stay at Albury Lodge, asked whether I would like to come to
Thornleigh with Milly for the midsummer vacation. My darling clapped
her hands gaily as he made this offer, and cried:
'O yes, Mary, you will come, won't you?—You dear kind papa, that is
just like you, always able to guess what one wishes. There is nothing
in the world I should like better than to have Mary at Thornleigh.'
'Then you have only to pack a box with all possible expedition, and to
come away with us, Miss Crofton,' said Mr. Darrell; 'the train starts
in an hour and a half. I can only give you an hour.'
I thanked him as well as I could—awkwardly enough, I daresay—for his
kindness, and ran away to ask Miss Bagshot's consent to the visit. This
she gave readily, in spite of some objections suggested by Miss Susan,
and I had nothing more to do than to pack my few dresses—my two
coloured muslins, a white dress for festive occasions, a black-silk
dress which was preëminently my 'best,' and some print
morning-dresses—wondering as I packed them how these things would pass
current among the grandeurs of Thornleigh. All this was finished well
within the hour, and I put on my bonnet and shawl, and ran
down—flushed with hurry and excitement, and very happy—to join my
friends in the drawing-room.
Miss Bagshot was there, talking of her attachment to her sweet young
friend, and her regret at losing her. Mr. Darrell cut these
lamentations short when he found I was ready, and we drove off to the
station in the fly that had brought him to Albury Lodge.
I looked at the little station to-day with a very different feeling
from that dull despondency which had possessed me six months before,
when I arrived there in the bleak January weather. The thought of five
weeks' respite from the monotonous routine of Albury Lodge was almost
perfect happiness. I did not forget those I loved at home, or cease to
regret the poverty that prevented my going home for the holidays; but
since this was impossible, nothing could have been pleasanter than the
idea of the visit I was going to pay.
Throughout the journey Mr. Darrell was all that was gracious and kind.
He talked a good deal of his wife; dwelling much upon her
accomplishments and amiability, and assuring his daughter again and
again that she could not fail to love her.
'I was a little bit of a coward in the business, I confess, Milly,' he
said, in the midst of this talk, 'and hadn't courage to tell you
anything till the deed was done; and then I thought it was as well to
let Julian make the announcement.'
'You ought to have trusted me better, papa,' Milly said tenderly; and I
knew what perfect self-abnegation there was in the happy smile with
which she gave him her hand.
'And you are not angry with me, my darling?' he asked.
'Angry with you, papa? as if I had any right to be angry with you! Only
try to love me a little, as you used to do, and I shall be quite happy.'
'I shall never love you less, my dear.'
The journey was not a long one; and the country through which we passed
was very fair to look upon in the bright June afternoon. The landscape
changed when we were within about thirty miles of our destination: the
fertile farmlands and waving fields of green corn gave place to an open
moor, and I felt from far off the fresh breath of the ocean. This broad
undulating moorland was new to me, and I thought there was a wild kind
of beauty in its loneliness. As for Milly, she looked out at the moor
with rapture, and strained her eyes to catch the first glimpse of the
hills about Thornleigh—those hills of which she had talked to me so
often in her little room at school.
The station we had to stop at was ten miles from Mr. Darrell's house,
and a barouche-and-pair was waiting for us in the sunny road outside.
We drove along a road that crossed the moor, until we came to a little
village of scattered houses, with a fine old church—at one end of
which an ancient sacristy seemed mouldering slowly to decay. We drove
past the gates of two or three rather important houses, lying
half-hidden in their gardens, and then turned sharply off into a road
that went up a hill, nearly at the top of which we came to a pair of
noble old carved iron gates, surmounted with a coat-of-arms, and
supported on each side by massive stone pillars, about which the ivy
An old man came out of a pretty rustic-looking lodge and opened these
gates, and we drove through an avenue of some extent, which led
straight to the front of the house, the aspect of which delighted me.
It was very old and massively built, and had quite a baronial look, I
thought. There was a wide stone terrace with ponderous moss-grown stone
balustrades round three sides of it, and at each angle a broad flight
of steps leading down to a second terrace, with sloping green banks
that melted into the turf of the lawn. The house stood on the summit of
a hill, and from one side commanded a noble view of the sea.
A lady came out of the curious old stone porch as the carriage drove
up, and stood at the top of the terrace steps waiting for us. I guessed
immediately that this must be Mrs. Darrell.
Milly hung back a little shyly, as her father led her up the steps with
her hand through his arm. She was very pale, and I could see that she
was trembling. Mrs. Darrell came forward to her quickly, and kissed her.
'My darling Emily,' she cried, 'I am so delighted to see you at
last.—O William, you did not deceive me when you promised me a
Milly blushed, and smiled at this compliment, but still clung to her
father, with shy downcast eyes.
I had time to look at Mrs. Darrell while this introduction was being
made. She was not by any means a beautiful woman, but she was what I
suppose would have been called eminently interesting. She was tall and
slim, very graceful-looking, with a beautiful throat and a well-shaped
head. Her features, with the exception of her eyes, were in no way
remarkable; but those were sufficiently striking to give character to a
face that might otherwise have been insipid. They were large luminous
gray eyes, with black lashes, and rather strongly-marked brows of a
much darker brown than her hair. That was of a nondescript shade,
neither auburn nor chestnut, and with little light or colour in its
soft silky masses; but it seemed to harmonise very well with her pale
complexion. Lavater has warned us to distrust any one whose hair and
eyebrows are of a different colour. I remembered this as I looked at
She was dressed in white; and I fancied the transparent muslin, with no
other ornament than a lilac ribbon at the waist, was peculiarly
becoming to her slender figure and delicate face. Her husband seemed to
think so too, for he looked at her with a fond admiring glance as he
offered her his arm to return to the house.
'I mustn't forget to introduce Miss Crofton to you, Augusta,' he said;
'a school friend of Milly's, who has kindly accepted my invitation to
spend the holidays with her.'
Mrs. Darrell gave me her hand; but I fancied that she did so rather
coldly, and I had an uneasy sense that I was not very welcome to the
new mistress of Thornleigh.
'You will find your old rooms all ready for you, Milly,' she said; 'I
suppose we had better put Miss Crofton in the blue room—next yours?'
'If you please, Mrs. Darrell.'
'What, Milly, won't you call me mamma?'
Milly was silent for a few moments, with a pained expression in her
'Pray, forgive me,' she said in a low voice; 'I cannot call any one by
Augusta Darrell kissed her again silently.
'It shall be as you wish, dear,' she said, after a pause.
A rosy-cheeked, pleasant-looking girl, who had been accustomed to wait
on Milly in the old time, came forward to meet us, and ran before us to
our rooms, expressing her delight at her young lady's return all the
way she went.
The rooms were very pretty, and were situated in that portion of the
house which looked towards the sea. There was a sitting-room, brightly
furnished with some light kind of wood, and with chintz hangings all
over rose-buds and butterflies. This had been Milly's schoolroom, and
there was a good many books in two pretty-looking bookcases on each
side of the fireplace. Besides these, there were some curious old
cabinets full of shells and china. It was altogether the prettiest,
most homelike room one could imagine.
Opening out of this, there was a large airy bedroom, with three windows
commanding that glorious view of moorland and sea; and beyond that, a
dainty little dressing-room. The next door in the corridor opened into
the room that had been allotted to me; a large comfortable-looking
room, in which there was an old-fashioned mahogany four-post bed with
I went to Milly's dressing-room when my own simple toilet was finished,
and stood by the open window talking to her while she arranged her
hair. She dismissed her little maid directly I went into the room, and
I felt she had something to say to me.
'Well, Mary,' she began at once, 'what do you think of her?'
'Of Mrs. Darrell?'
'What opinion can I possibly form about her, after seeing her for three
minutes, Milly? I think she is very elegant-looking. That is the only
idea I have about her yet.'
'Do you think she looks true, Mary? Do you think she has married papa
because she loves him?'
'My dear child, how can I tell that? She is a great many years younger
than your papa, but I do not see that the difference between them need
be any real hindrance to her loving him. He is a man whom any woman
might care for, I should think; to say nothing of her natural gratitude
towards the man who has rescued her from a position of dependence.'
'Gratitude is all nonsense,' Miss Darrell answered impatiently. 'I want
to know that my father is loved as he deserves to be loved. I shall
never tolerate that woman unless I can feel sure of that.'
'I believe you are prejudiced against her already, Milly,' I said
'I daresay I am, Mary. I daresay I feel unjustly about her; but I don't
like her face.'
'What is there in her face that you don't like?'
'O, I can't tell you that—an undefinable something. I have a sort of
conviction that she and I can never love each other.'
'It is rather hard upon Mrs. Darrell to begin with such a feeling as
'I can't help it. Of course I shall try to do my duty to her, for
papa's sake, and I shall do my best to conquer all these unchristian
feelings. But we cannot command our hearts, you know, Mary, and I don't
think I shall ever love my stepmother.'
She took me down to the drawing-room after this. It was half-past six,
and we were to dine at seven. The drawing-room was a long room, with
five windows opening on to the terrace, an old-fashioned-looking room
with panelled walls and a fine arched ceiling. The wainscot was painted
white, with gilt mouldings, and the cornice and architraves of the
doors were elaborately carved. The furniture was white-and-gold like
the walls, and in that spurious classical style which prevailed during
the first French Empire. The window-curtains and coverings of sofas and
chairs were of dark-green velvet.
A gentleman was standing in one of the open windows looking out at the
garden. He turned as Milly and I went in, and I recognised Mr.
Stormont. He came forward to shake hands with his cousin, and smiled
his peculiar slow smile at her expression of surprise.
'You didn't know I was here, Milly?'
'No, indeed; I had no idea of seeing you.'
'I wonder your father did not tell you of my visit. I came over this
morning for a fortnight's holiday. I've been working a little harder
than usual lately, and my uncle is good enough to say I have earned a
'I wonder you don't go abroad for a change.'
'I don't care about a change. I had much rather come to Thornleigh.'
He looked at her very earnestly as he said this. I had been sure of it
that afternoon when we all three sat in the summer-house at Albury
Lodge, but I could see that Milly herself had no idea of the truth.
'Well, Milly, what do you think of your new mamma?' he asked presently.
'I had rather not tell you yet.'
'Humph! that hardly sounds favourable to the lady. She seems to me a
very charming person; but she is not my stepmother, and, of course,
that makes a difference. Your father is intensely devoted.'
Mr. Darrell came into the room a few minutes after this, and his wife
followed him almost immediately. Milly placed herself next her father,
and contrived to absorb his attention, not quite to the satisfaction of
the elder lady, I fancied. Those bright gray eyes flashed upon my
darling with a brief look of anger, which changed in the next moment to
Mrs. Darrell stood by one of the tables, idly turning over some books
and papers, and finding me seated near her, began to talk to me
presently in a very gracious manner, asking me how I liked Thornleigh,
and a few other questions of a stereotyped kind; but even while she
talked those watchful eyes were always turned towards the window where
the father and daughter stood side by side. Mr. Stormont came over to
her while she was talking to me, and joined in the conversation; in the
midst of which a grave gray-haired old butler came to announce dinner.
Mr. Stormont offered his arm to the lady of the house, while Mr.
Darrell gave one arm to me and the other to his daughter; and we went
down a long passage, at the end of which was the dining-room, a noble
old room, with dark oak panelling and a great many pictures by the old
masters, which were, no doubt, as valuable as they were dingy. We dined
at an oval table, prettily decorated with flowers and with some very
curious old silver.
There was a good deal of talk at dinner, in which I could take very
little part. Mr. and Mrs. Darrell talked to Julian Stormont of their
travels; and I must confess the lady talked well, with no affectation
of enthusiasm, and with an evident knowledge and appreciation of the
things she was speaking about. I envied her those wanderings in sunny
foreign lands, even though they had been made in the company of an
invalid dowager, and I wondered whether she would be happy in a settled
existence at Thornleigh.
After dinner Milly took me out upon the terrace, and from thence we
went to explore the gardens. We had not been out long before Julian
Stormont came to join us. We had been talking pleasantly enough till he
appeared, but his coming seemed to make us both silent, and he himself
had a thoughtful air. I watched his pale face as he walked beside us in
the twilight, and was again struck by the careworn look about the brow
and the resolute expression of the mouth.
He was very fond of Milly. Of that fact there could be no possible
doubt; and I think he had already begun to suffer keenly from the
knowledge that his love was unreturned. That he hoped against hope at
this time—that he counted fully on his power to win her in the future,
I know. He was too wise to precipitate matters by any untimely avowal
of his feelings. He waited with a quiet resolute patience which was a
part of his nature.
Of course we talked a little, but it was in a straggling, desultory
kind of way; and I think it was a relief to all of us when we finished
the round of the gardens and went in through one of the drawing-room
windows. The room was lighted with lamps and candles placed about upon
the tables, and Mrs. Darrell was sitting near her husband, employed
upon some airy scrap of fancy-work, while he read his Times.
He asked for some music soon after we went in, and she rose to obey him
with a very charming air of submission. She played magnificently, with
a power and style that were quite new to me, for I had heard no
professional performers. She sang an Italian scena afterwards, in a
rich mezzo-soprano, and with a kind of suppressed passion that
impressed me deeply. I scarcely wondered, after hearing her play and
sing, that Mr. Darrell had been fascinated by her. These gifts of hers
were in themselves sufficient to subjugate a man who really cared for
Milly was charmed into forgetfulness of her prejudices. She went over
to the piano and kissed her stepmother.
'Papa told me how clever you were,' she said; 'but he did not tell me
you were a genius.'
Mrs. Darrell received the compliment very modestly, and then tried to
persuade Milly to sing or play; but the girl declined resolutely.
Nothing could induce her to touch the piano after that brilliant
The next day and several days passed very quietly, and in a kind of
monotonous comfort. The rector of the parish dined with us one day, and
on another a neighbouring squire with his wife and three daughters.
Milly and I spent a good deal of our time in the gardens and on the
sea-shore, with Julian Stormont for our companion, while Mr. and Mrs.
Darrell rode or drove together. My darling could see that she was not
expected to join them in these rides and drives, and I think this
confirmed her idea that her father was in a manner lost to her.
'I must try to be satisfied with this new state of things, Mary,' she
said, with a sigh of resignation. 'If my father is happy, I ought to be
contented. But O, my dear, if you could have seen us together a year
ago, you would know how much I have lost.'
I had been at Thornleigh a little more than a week, when Mr. Darrell
one morning proposed a drive to a place called Cumber Priory, which was
one of the show-houses of the neighbourhood. It was a very old place,
he said, and had been one of the earliest monastic settlements in that
part of the country. Milly and her father and her cousin had been there
a great many times, and the visit was proposed for the gratification of
Mrs. Darrell and myself.
She assented graciously, as she always did to every proposition of her
husband's, and we started soon after breakfast in the barouche, with
Julian Stormont on horseback. The drive was delightful; for, after
leaving the hilly district about Thornleigh, our road lay through a
wood, where the trees were of many hundred years' growth. I recognised
groups of oak and beech that I had seen among the sketches in Milly's
On the other side of the wood we came to some dilapidated-looking
gates, with massive stone escutcheons on the great square pillars.
There was a lodge, but it was evidently unoccupied, and Mr. Darrell's
footman got down from the box to open the gates. Within we made the
circuit of a neglected lawn, divided from a park by a sunk fence,
across which some cattle stared at us in a lazy manner as we drove past
them. The house was a long low building with heavily mullioned windows,
and was flanked by gothic towers. Most of the windows had closed
shutters, and the place had altogether a deserted look.
'The Priory has not been occupied for several years,' Mr. Darrell said,
as if in answer to my thoughts as I looked up at the closed windows.
'The family have been too poor to live in it in anything like their old
state. There is only one member of the old family remaining now, and he
leads a wandering kind of life abroad, I believe.'
'What has made them so poor?' asked Mrs. Darrell.
'Extravagant habits, I suppose,' answered her husband, with an
expressive shrug of the shoulders. 'The Egertons have always been a
'Egerton!' Mrs. Darrell repeated; 'I thought the name of these people
'No; Cumber is only the name of the place. It has been in the Egerton
family for centuries.'
I was seated exactly opposite her, and I was surprised by the strange
startled look in her face as she repeated the name of Egerton. That
look passed away in the next moment, and left her with her usual air of
languid indifference; a placid kind of listlessness which harmonised
very well with her pale complexion and delicate features. She was not a
woman from whom one expected much animation.
The low iron-studded door of the Priory was opened by a decent-looking
old woman of that species which seems created expressly for the showing
of old houses. She divined our errand at once, and as soon as we were
in the hall, began her catalogue of pictures and curiosities in the
usual mechanical way, while we looked about us, always fixing our eyes
on the wrong object, and more bewildered than enlightened by her
description of the chief features of the place.
We went from room to room, the dame throwing open the shutters of the
deep-set gothic windows, and letting in a flood of sunshine upon the
faded tapestries and tarnished picture-frames. It was a noble old
place, and the look of decay upon everything was more in accord with
its grandeur than any modern splendour could have been.
We had been through all the rooms on the ground floor, most of which
opened into one another, and were returning towards the hall, when Mr.
Darrell missed his wife, and sent me back to look for her in one
direction, while he went in another. I hurried through three or four
empty rooms, until I came to a small one at the end of the house, and
here I found her. I had not noticed this room much, for it was
furnished in a more modern style than the rest of the house, and the
old housekeeper had made very light of it, hurrying us back to look at
some armour over the chimneypiece in the next room. It was her master's
study, she had said, and was not generally shown to strangers.
It was a small dark-looking room, lined with dingily-bound books upon
heavy carved-oak shelves, and with no other furniture than a massive
writing-table and three or four arm-chairs. Over the mantelpiece, which
was modern and low, there was a portrait of a young man with a dark
handsome face, and it was at this that Augusta Darrell was looking. I
could see her face in profile as she stood upon the hearth with her
clenched hand upon the mantelpiece, and I had never before seen such an
expression in any human countenance.
What was it? Despair, remorse, regret? I know not; but it was a look of
keenest anguish, of unutterable sorrow. The face was deadly pale, the
great gray eyes looking upwards at the portrait, the lips locked
She did not hear my footstep; it was only when I spoke to her that she
turned towards me with a stony face, and asked what I wanted.
I told her that Mr. Darrell had sent me.
'I was coming this instant,' she said, resuming her usual manner with
an effort. 'I had only loitered to look at that portrait. A fine face,
is it not, Miss Crofton?'
'A handsome one, at any rate,' I answered doubtfully, for that dark
haughty countenance struck me as rather repellent than attractive.
'That's as much as to say you don't think it a good face. Well, perhaps
you are right. It reminded me of some one I knew a long time ago, and
was rather interesting to me on that account. And then I fell into a
kind of a reverie, and forgot that my dear husband might miss me.'
He came into the room as she was saying this. She told him that she had
stopped to look at the portrait, and asked whose it was.
'It is a likeness of Angus Egerton, the present owner of the Priory,'
Mr. Darrell answered; 'and a very good likeness, too—of as bad a man
as ever lived, I believe,' he added in a lower voice.
'A bad man?'
'Yes; he broke his mother's heart.'
'In what manner?'
'He fell in love with a girl of low birth, whom he met in the course of
a pedestrian tour in the West of England, and was going to marry her, I
believe, when Mrs. Egerton got wind of the affair. She was a very proud
woman—one of the most resolute masculine-minded women I ever knew. She
went down into Devonshire where the girl lived immediately, and by some
means or other prevented the marriage. How it was done I never heard;
but it was not until a year afterwards that Angus Egerton discovered
his mother's part in the business. He came down to the Priory suddenly
and unexpectedly at a late hour one night, and walked straight to his
mother's room. I have heard that old woman who has been showing us the
house describe his ghastly face—she was Mrs. Egerton's maid in those
days—as he pushed her aside and went into the room where his mother
was sitting. There was a dreadful scene between them, and at the end of
it Angus Egerton walked out of the house, swearing never again to enter
it while his mother lived. He has kept his word. Mrs. Egerton never
crossed the threshold after that night, and refused to see anybody
except her servants and her doctor. She lived this lonely kind of life
for nearly three years, and then died of some slow wasting disease, for
which the doctor could find no name.'
'And where did Mr. Egerton go after leaving her that night?'
'He slept at a little inn at Cumber, and went back to London next
morning. He left England soon after that, and has lived abroad ever
'And you think him a very bad man?'
'I consider his conduct to his mother a sufficient evidence of that.'
'He may have believed himself deeply wronged.'
'He must have known that she had acted in his interests when she
prevented his committing the folly of a low marriage. She was his
mother, and had been a most devoted and indulgent mother.'
'And in the end contrived to break his heart—to say nothing of the
girl who loved him, who was of course a piece of common clay, not worth
'I did not think you had so much romance, Augusta,' said Mr. Darrell,
laughing; 'I suppose it is natural for a woman to take the part of
unfortunate lovers, however foolish the affair may be. But I believe
this Devonshire girl was quite unworthy of an honourable attachment on
the part of any man. You see I knew and liked Mrs. Egerton, and I know
how she loved her son. I cannot forgive him his conduct to her; nor
have the reports of his life abroad been by any means favourable to his
character. His career seems to have been a very wild and dissipated
'And he has never married?'
'No, he has never married.'
'He has been true, at least,' Mrs. Darrell said in a low thoughtful
We had lingered in the little study while her husband had told his
story. We went back to the hall now, and found Milly and Mr. Stormont
looking rather listlessly at the old portraits of the Egerton race. I
was anxious to see a picture of the last Mrs. Egerton, after what I had
heard about her, and, at my request, the housekeeper showed me one in
She was very handsome, and wonderfully like her son. I could fancy
those two haughty spirits in opposition.
We spent another hour looking over the rest of the house—old tapestry,
old pictures, old china, old furniture, secret staircases, carved
chimneypieces, muniment chests, and the usual objects of interest to be
found in such a place. After that we walked a little in the neglected
garden, where there were old holly hedges that had grown high and wild
for want of clipping, and where a curious old sun-dial had fallen down
upon the grass in a forlorn way. The paths were all green and
moss-grown, and the roses were almost choked with bindweed. I saw Mrs.
Darrell gather one of these roses and put it in her breast. It was the
first time I have ever seen her pluck a flower, though there was a
wealth of roses at Thornleigh.
So ended our visit to Cumber Priory; a place that was destined to be
very memorable to some of us in the time to come.
It had been Milly's habit to devote one day a week to visiting among
the poor, before she went to Albury Lodge; and she now resumed this
practice, I accompanying her upon her visits. I had been used to going
about among the cottagers at home, and I liked the work. It was very
pleasant to see Milly Darrell with these people—the perfect confidence
and sympathy between them and her, the delight they seemed to take in
her bright cheering presence. I was struck by their simple natural
manner, and the absence of anything like sycophancy to be observed in
them. One day, when we had been to several cottages about the village,
Milly asked me if I could manage rather a long walk; and on my telling
her that I could, we started upon a lonely road that wound across the
moor in a direction I had never walked in until that day. We went on
for about two miles without passing a human habitation, and then came
to one of the most desolate-looking cottages I ever remember seeing. It
was little better than a cabin, and consisted only of two rooms—a kind
of kitchen or dwelling-room, and a dark little bedchamber opening out
'I am not going to introduce you to a very agreeable person, Mary,'
Milly said, when we were within a few paces of this solitary dwelling;
'but old Rebecca is a character in her way, and I make a point of
coming to see her now and then, though she is not always very gracious
It was a warm bright summer's day, but the door and the single window
of the cottage were firmly closed. Milly knocked with her hand, and a
thin feeble old voice called to her to 'come in.'
We went in: the atmosphere of the place was hot, and had an unpleasant
doctor's-shoppish kind of odour, which I found was caused by some herbs
in a jar that was simmering over a little stove in a corner. Bunches of
dried herbs hung from the low ceiling, and on an old-fashioned
lumbering chest of drawers that stood in the window there were more
herbs and roots laid out to dry.
'Mrs. Thatcher is a very clever doctor, Mary,' said Milly, as if by way
of introduction; 'all our servants come to her to be cured when they
have colds and coughs.—And how are you this lovely summer weather,
'None too well, miss,' grumbled the old woman; 'I don't like the summer
time; it never suited me.'
'That's strange,' said Milly gaily; 'I thought everybody liked summer.'
'Not those that live as I do, Miss Darrell. There's no illness in
summer—no colds, nor coughs, nor sore-threats, nor suchlikes. I don't
know that I shouldn't starve outright, if it wasn't for the ague; and
even that is nothing now to what it used to be.'
I was quite horror-struck by this ghoulish speech; but Milly only
laughed gaily at the old woman's candour.
'If the doctors were as plain-spoken as you, I daresay they'd say
pretty much the same kind of thing, Mrs. Thatcher,' she said. 'How's
'O, he's well enough, Miss Darrell. Naught's never in danger.—Peter,
come here, and see the young ladies.'
A poor, feeble, pale-faced, semi-idiotic-looking boy came slowly out of
the dark little bedroom, and stood grinning at us. He had the white
sickly aspect of a creature reared without the influence of air and
light; and I pitied him intensely as he stood there staring and
grinning in that dreadful hopeless manner.
'Poor Peter!' He's no better, I'm afraid,' said Milly gently.
'No, miss, nor never will be. He knows more than people think, and has
queer cunning ways of his own; but he'll never be any better or wiser
than he is now.'
'Not if you were to take as much pains with him as you do with the
patients who pay you, Mrs. Thatcher?' asked Milly.
'I've taken pains with him,' answered the woman, with a scowl. 'I took
to him kindly enough when he was a little fellow; but he's grown up to
be nothing but a plague and a burden to me.'
The boy left off grinning, and his poor weak chin sank lower on his
narrow chest. His attitude had been a stooping one from the first; but
he drooped visibly under the old woman's reproof.
'Can he employ himself in no way?'
'No, miss; except in picking the herbs and roots for me sometimes. He
can do that, and he knows one from t'other.'
'He's of some use to you, at any rate, then,' said Milly.
'Little enough,' the old woman answered sulkily. 'I don't want help;
I've plenty of time to gather them myself. But I've taught him to pick
them, and it's the only thing he ever could learn.'
'Poor fellow! He's your only grandchild, isn't he, Mrs. Thatcher?'
'Yes, he's the only one, miss, and he'd need be. I don't know how I
should keep another. You can't remember my daughter Ruth? She was as
pretty a girl as you'd care to see. She was housemaid at Cumber priory
in Mrs. Egerton's time, and she married the butler. They set up in
business in a little public-house in Thornleigh village, and he took to
drinking, till everything went to rack and ruin. My poor girl took the
trouble to heart more than her husband did, a great deal; and I believe
it was the trouble that killed her. She died three weeks after that boy
was born, and her husband ran away the day after the funeral, and has
never been heard of since. Some say he drowned himself in the Clem; but
he was a precious deal too fond of himself for that. He was up to his
eyes in debt, and didn't leave a sixpence behind him; that's how Peter
came to be thrown on my hands.'
'Come here, Peter,' said Milly softly; and the boy went to her
directly, and took the hand she offered him.
'You've not forgotten me, have you, Peter? Miss Darrell, who used to
talk to you sometimes a long time ago.'
The boy's vacant face brightened into something like intelligence.
'I know you, miss,' he said; 'you was always kind to Peter. It's not
many that I know; but I know you.'
She took out her purse and gave him half-a-crown.
'There, Peter, there's a big piece of silver for your own self, to buy
whatever you like—sugar-sticks, gingerbread, marbles—anything.'
His clumsy hand closed upon the coin, and I have no doubt he was
pleased by the donation; but he never took his eyes from Milly
Darrell's face. That bright lovely face seemed to exercise a kind of
fascination upon him.
'Don't you think Peter would be better if you were to give him a little
more air and sunshine, Mrs. Thatcher?' Milly asked presently; 'that
bedroom seems rather a dark close place.'
'He needn't be there unless he likes,' Mrs. Thatcher answered
indifferently. 'He sits out of doors whenever he chooses.'
'Then I should always sit out-of-doors on fine days, if I were you,
Peter,' said Milly.
After this she talked a little to Mrs. Thatcher, who was by no means a
sympathetic person, while I sat looking on, and contemplating the old
woman with a feeling that was the reverse of admiration.
She was of a short squat figure, with broad shoulders and no throat to
speak of, and her head seemed too big for her body. Her face was long
and thin, with large features, and a frame of scanty gray hair, among
which a sandy tinge still lingered here and there; her eyes were of an
ugly reddish-brown, and had, I thought, a most sinister expression. I
must have been very ill, and sorely at a loss for a doctor, before I
could have been induced to trust my health to the care of Mrs. Rebecca
I told Milly as much while we were walking homewards, and she admitted
that Rebecca Thatcher was no favourite even among the country people,
who believed implicitly in her skill.
'I'm afraid she tells fortunes, and dabbles in all sorts of
superstitious tricks,' Milly added gravely; 'but she is so artful,
there is no way of finding her out in that kind of business. The
foolish country girls who consult her always keep her secret, and she
manages to put on a fair face before our rector and his curate, who
believe her to be a respectable woman.'
The days and weeks slipped by very pleasantly at Thornleigh, and the
end of those bright midsummer holidays came only too soon. It seemed a
bitter thing to say 'good-bye' to Milly Darrell, and to go back alone
to a place which must needs be doubly dull and dreary to me without
her. She had been my only friend at Albury Lodge; loving her as I did,
I had never cared to form any other friendship.
The dreaded day came at last—dreaded I know by both of us; and I said
'good-bye' to my darling so quietly, that I am sure none could have
guessed the grief I felt in this parting. Mrs. Darrell was very kind
and gracious on this occasion, begging that I would come back to
Thornleigh at Christmas—if they should happen to spend their Christmas
Milly looked up at her wonderingly as she said this.
'Is there any chance of our spending it elsewhere, Augusta?' she asked.
Mrs. Darrell had persuaded her stepdaughter to use this familiar
Christian name, rather than the more formal mode of address.
'I don't know, my dear. Your papa has sometimes talked of a house in
town, or we might be abroad. I can only say that if we are at home
here, we shall be very much pleased to see Miss Crofton again.'
I thanked her, kissed Milly once more, and so departed—to be driven to
the station in state in the barouche, and to look sadly back at the
noble old house in which I had been so happy.
Once more I returned to the dryasdust routine of Albury Lodge, and rang
the changes upon history and geography, chronology and English grammar,
physical science and the elements of botany, until my weary head ached
and my heart grew sick. And when I came to be a governess, it would of
course be the same thing over and over again, on a smaller scale. And
this was to be my future, without hope of change or respite, until I
grew an old woman worn-out with the drudgery of tuition!
The half-year wore itself slowly away. There were no incidents to mark
the time, no change except the slow changes of the seasons; and my only
pleasures were letters from home or from Emily Darrell.
Of the home letters I will not speak—they could have no interest
except for myself; but Milly's are links in the story of a life. She
wrote to me as freely as she had talked to me, pouring out all her
thoughts and fancies with that confiding frankness which was one of the
most charming attributes of her mind. For some time the letters
contained nothing that could be called news; but late in September
there came one which seemed to me to convey intelligence of some
'You will be grieved to hear, my darling Mary,' she wrote, after a
little playful discussion of my own affairs, 'that my stepmother and I
are no nearer anything like a real friendship than we were when you
left us. What it is that makes the gulf between us, I cannot tell; but
there is something, some hidden feeling in both our minds, I think,
which prevents our growing fond of each other. She is very kind to me,
so far as perfect non-interference with my doings, and a gracious
manner when we are together, can go; but I am sure she does not like
me. I have surprised her more than once looking at me with the
strangest expression—a calculating, intensely thoughtful look, that
made her face ten years older than it is at other times. Of course
there are times when we are thrown together alone—though this does not
occur often, for she and my father are a most devoted couple, and spend
the greater part of every day together—and I have noticed at those
times that she never speaks of her girlhood, or of any part of her life
before her marriage. All that came before seems a blank page, or a
sealed volume that she does not care to open. I asked some trifling
question about her father once, and she turned upon me almost angrily.
"I do not care to speak about him, Milly," she said; "he was not a good
father, and he is best forgotten. I never had a real friend till I met
'There is one part of her character which I am bound to appreciate. I
believe that she is really grateful and devoted to papa, and he
certainly seems thoroughly happy in her society. The marriage had the
effect which I felt sure it must have—it has divided us two most
completely; but if it has made him happy, I have no reason to complain.
What could I wish for beyond his happiness?
'And now, Milly, for my news. Julian Stormont has been here, and has
asked me to be his wife.
'He came over last Saturday afternoon, intending to stop with us till
Monday morning. It was a bright warm day here, and in the afternoon he
persuaded me to walk to Cumber Church with him. You remember the way we
drove through the wood the day we went to the Priory, I daresay; but
there is a nearer way than that for foot passengers, and I think a
prettier one—a kind of cross-cut through the same wood. I consented
willingly enough, having nothing better to do with myself, and we had a
pleasant walk to church, talking of all kinds of things. As we returned
Julian grew very serious, and when we were about half way upon our
journey, he asked me if I could guess what had brought him over to
Thornleigh. Of course I told him that I concluded he had come as he
usually did—for rest and change after the cares of business, and to
talk about business affairs with papa.
'He told me he had come for something more than that. He came to tell
me that he had loved me all his life; that there was nothing my father
would like better than our union if it could secure my happiness, as he
hoped and believed it might.
'I think you know, Mary, that no idea of this kind had ever entered my
mind. I told Julian this, and told him that, however I might esteem him
as my cousin, he could never be nearer or dearer to me than that. The
change in his face when he heard this almost frightened me. He grew
deadly pale, but I am certain it was anger rather than disappointment
that was uppermost in his mind. I never knew until then what a hard
cruel face it could be.
"Is this irrevocable, Emily?" he asked, in a cold firm voice; "is there
no hope that you will change your mind by and by?"
"No, Julian; I am never likely to do that."
"There is some one else, then, I suppose," he said.
"No, indeed, there is no one else."
"Highly complimentary to me!" he cried, with a harsh laugh.
'I was very sorry for him, in spite of that angry look.
"Pray don't imagine that I do not appreciate your many high qualities,
Julian," I said, "or that I do not feel honoured by your preference for
me. No doubt there are many women in the world better deserving your
regard than I am, who would be able to return it."
"Thank you for that little conventional speech," he cried with a sneer.
"A man builds all his hopes of happiness on one woman, and she coolly
shatters the fabric of his life, and then tells him to go and build
elsewhere. I daresay there are women in the world who would condescend
to marry me if I asked them, but it is my misfortune to care only for
one woman. I can't transfer my affection, as a man transfers his
capital from one form of investment to another."
'We walked on for some time in silence. I was determined not to be
angry with him, however ungraciously he might speak to me; and when we
were drawing near home, I begged that we might remain friends still,
and that this unfortunate conversation might make no difference between
us. I told him I knew how much my father valued him, and that it would
distress me deeply if he deserted Thornleigh on my account.
"Friends!" he replied, in an absent tone; "yes, we are still friends of
course, and I shall not desert Thornleigh."
'He seemed gayer than usual that evening after dinner. Whether the
gaiety was assumed in order to hide his depression, or whether he was
really able to take the matter lightly, I cannot tell. Of course I
cannot shut out of my mind the consideration that a marriage with me
would be a matter of great worldly advantage to Julian, who has nothing
but the salary he receives from my father, and who by such a marriage
would most likely secure immediate possession of the business, in which
he is already a kind of deputy principal.
'I noticed that my stepmother was especially kind to Julian this
evening, and that she and he sat apart in one of the windows for some
time talking to each other in a low confidential tone, while my father
took his after-dinner nap. I wonder whether he told her of our
interview that afternoon?
'He went back to Shields early next morning, and bade me good-bye quite
in his usual manner; so I hoped he had forgiven me; but the affair has
left an unpleasant feeling in my mind, a sort of vague dread of some
trouble to arise out of it in the future. I cannot forget that hard
cruel look in my cousin's face.
'When he was gone, Mrs. Darrell began to praise him very warmly, and my
father spoke of him in the same tone. They talked of him a good deal as
we lingered over our breakfast, and I fancied there was some intention
with regard to me in the minds of both—they seem indeed to think alike
upon every subject. Dearly as I love my father, this is a point upon
which even his influence could not affect me. I might be weak and
yielding upon every other question, never upon this.
'And now let me tell you about my friend Peter, Rebecca Thatcher's
half-witted grandson. You know how painfully we were both struck by the
poor fellow's listless hopeless manner when we were at the cottage on
the moor. I thought of it a great deal afterwards, and it occurred to
me that our head-gardener might find work for him in the way of
weeding, and rolling the gravel paths, and such humble matters. Brook
is a good kind old man, and always ready to do anything to please me;
so I asked him the question one day in August, and he promised that
when he next wanted extra hands Peter Thatcher should be employed,
"Though I don't suppose I shall ever make much of him, miss," he said;
"but there's naught I wouldn't do to please you."
'Well, my dear Mary, the boy came, and has done so well as quite to
surprise Brook and the other two gardeners. He has an extraordinary
attachment to me, and nothing delights him so much as to wait upon me
when I am attending to my ferns, a task I always perform myself, as you
know. To see this poor boy, standing by with a watering-pot in one
hand, and a little basket of dead leaves in the other, watching me as
breathlessly as if I were some great surgeon operating upon a patient,
would make you smile; but I think you could scarcely fail to be touched
by his devotion. He tells me that he is so happy at Thornleigh, and he
begins to look a great deal brighter already. The men say he is
indefatigable in his work, and worth two ordinary boys. He is
passionately fond of flowers, and I have begun to teach him the
elements of botany. It is rather slow work impressing the names of the
plants upon his poor feeble brain; but he is so anxious to learn, and
so proud of being taught, that I am well repaid for my trouble.'
Milly was very anxious that I should spend Christmas at Thornleigh; but
it was by that time nearly a year since I had seen the dear ones at
home, and ill as my dear father could afford any addition to his
expenses, he wished me to spend my holidays with him; and so it was
arranged that I should return to Warwickshire, much to my dear girl's
The holiday was a very happy one; and, before it was over, I received a
letter from Milly, telling me that Mr. and Mrs. Darrell were going
abroad for some months, and asking me to cut short my term at Albury
Lodge, and come to Thornleigh as her companion, at a salary which I
thought a very handsome one.
The idea of exchanging the dull monotony of Miss Bagshot's
establishment for such a home as Thornleigh, with the friend I loved as
dearly as a sister, was more than delightful to me, to say nothing of a
salary which would enable me to buy my own clothes and leave a margin
for an annual remittance to my father. I talked the subject over with
him, and he wrote immediately to Miss Bagshot, requesting her to waive
the half-year's notice of the withdrawal of my services, to which she
was fairly entitled. This she consented very kindly to do; and instead
of going back to Albury Lodge, I went to Thornleigh.
Mr. and Mrs. Darrell had started for Paris when I arrived, and the
house seemed very empty and quiet. My dear girl came into the hall to
receive me, and led me off to her pretty sitting-room, where there was
a bright fire, and where, she told me, she spent almost the whole of
her time now.
'And are you really pleased to come to me, Mary?' she asked, when our
first greetings were over.
'More than pleased, my darling. It seems almost too bright a life for
me. I can hardly believe in it yet.'
'But perhaps you will seen get as tired of Thornleigh as ever you did
of Albury Lodge. It will be rather a dull kind of life, you know; only
you and I and the old servants.'
'I shall never feel dull with you, Milly. But tell me how all this came
about. How was it you didn't go abroad with Mr. and Mrs. Darrell?'
'Ah, that is rather strange, isn't it? The truth of the matter is, that
Augusta did not want me to go with them. She does not like me, Mary,
that is the real truth, through she affects to be very fond of me, and
has contrived to make my father think she is so. What is there that she
cannot make him think? She does not like me; and she is never quite
happy or at her ease when I am with her. She had been growing tired of
Thornleigh for some time when the winter began; and she looked so pale
and ill, that my father got anxious about her. The doctor here treated
her in the usual stereotyped way, and made very light of her ailments,
but recommended change of air and scene. Papa proposed going to
Scarborough; but somehow or other Augusta contrived to change
Scarborough into Paris, and they are to spend the winter and spring
there, and perhaps go on to Germany in the summer. At first papa was
very anxious to take me with them; but Augusta dropped some little
hints—it would interrupt my studies, and unsettle me, and so on. You
know I am rather proud, Mary, so you can imagine I was not slow to
understand her. I said I would much prefer to stay at Thornleigh, and
proposed immediately that you should come to me and be my companion,
and help me on with my studies.'
'My dearest, how good of you to wish that!'
'It was not at all good. I think you are the only person in the world
who really cares for me, now that I have lost papa—for I have lost
him, you see, Mary; that becomes more obvious every day. Well, dear, I
had a hard battle to fight. Mrs. Darrell said you were absurdly young
for such a position, and that I required a matronly person, able to
direct and protect me, and take the management of the house in her
absence, and so on; but I said that I wanted neither direction nor
protection; that the house wanted no other management than that of Mrs.
Bunce the housekeeper, who has managed it ever since I was a baby; and
that if I could not have Mary Crofton, I would have no one at all. I
told papa what an indefatigable darling you were, and how
conscientiously you would perform anything you promised to do. So,
after a good deal of discussion, the matter was settled; and here we
are, with the house all to ourselves, and the prospect of being alone
together for six months to come.'
I asked her if she had seen much of Mr. Stormont since that memorable
'He has been here twice,' she said, 'for his usual short visit from
Saturday afternoon till Monday morning, and he has treated me just as
if that uncomfortable interview had never taken place.'
We were very happy together in the great lonely house, amongst old
servants, who seemed to take a pleasure in waiting on us. We spent our
mornings and evenings in Milly's sitting-room, and took our meals in a
snug prettily-furnished breakfast-room on the ground-floor. We read
together a great deal, going through a systematic course of study of a
very different kind from the dry labours at Albury Lodge. There was a
fine old library at Thornleigh, and we read the masters of English and
French prose together with unflagging interest and pleasure. Besides
all this, Milly worked hard at her music, and still harder at her
painting, which was a real delight to her.
Mr. Collingwood the rector, and his family, came to see us, and
insisted on our visiting them frequently in a pleasant unceremonious
manner; and we had other invitations from Milly's old friends in the
neighbourhood of Thornleigh.
There were carriages at our disposal, but we did not often use them.
Milly preferred walking; and we used to take long rambles together
whenever the weather was favourable—rambles across the moor, or far
away over the hills, or deep into the wood between Thornleigh and
A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.
It was shortly after my arrival at Thornleigh that I first saw the man
whose story I had heard in the study at Cumber Priory. Milly and I had
been together about a fortnight, and it was the end of January—cold,
clear, bright weather—when we set out early one afternoon for a ramble
in our favourite wood, Milly furnished with pencils and sketch-book, in
order to jot down any striking effect of the gaunt leafless old trees.
She had a hardy disregard of cold in her devotion to her art, and would
sit down to sketch in the bitter January weather in spite of my
We stayed out longer than usual, and Milly had stopped once or twice to
make a hasty sketch, when the sky grew suddenly dark, and big drops of
rain began to fall slowly. These were speedily succeeded by a pelting
storm of rain and hail, and we felt that we were caught, and must be
drenched to the skin before we could get back to Thornleigh. The
weather had been temptingly fine when we left home, and we had neither
umbrellas nor any other kind of protection against the rain.
'We had better scamper off as fast as we can,' said Milly.
'But we can't run four miles. Hadn't we better go on to Cumber, and
wait in the village till the weather changes, or try to get some kind
of conveyance there?'
'Well, I suppose that would be best. There must be such a thing as a
fly at Cumber, I should think, small as the place is. But it's nearly a
mile from here to the village.'
'Anything seems better than going back through the wood in such a
weather,' I said.
We were close to the outskirts of the wood at this time, and within a
very short distance of the Priory gates. While we were still pausing in
an undecided way, with the rain pelting down upon us, a figure came
towards us from among the leafless trees—the figure of a man, a
gentleman, as we could see by his dress and bearing, and a stranger. We
had never met any one but country-people, farm-labourers, and so on, in
the wood before, and were a little startled by his apparition.
He came up to us quickly, lifting his hat as he approached us.
'Caught in the storm, ladies,' he said, 'and without umbrellas I see,
too. Have you far to go?'
'Yes, we have to go as far as Thornleigh,' Milly answered.
'Quite impossible in such weather. Will you come into the Priory and
wait till the storm is over?'
'The Priory! To be sure!' cried Milly. 'I never thought of that. I know
the housekeeper very well, and I am sure she would let us stop there.'
We walked towards the Priory gates, the stranger accompanying us. I had
no opportunity of looking at him under that pelting rain, but I was
wondering all the time who he was, and how he came to speak of Cumber
Priory in that familiar tone.
One of the gates stood open, and we went in.
'A desolate-looking place, isn't it?' said the stranger. 'Dismal
enough, without the embellishment of such weather as this.'
He led the way to the hall-door, and opened it unceremoniously,
standing aside for us to pass in before him. There was a fire burning
in the wide old-fashioned fireplace, and the place had an air of
occupation that was new to it.
'I'll send for Mrs. Mills, and she shall take your wet shawls away to
be dried,' said the stranger, ringing a bell; and I think we both began
to understand by this time that he must be the master of the house.
'You are very kind,' Milly answered, taking off her dripping shawl. 'I
did not know that the Priory was occupied except by the old servants. I
fear you must have thought me very impertinent just now when I talked
so coolly of taking shelter here.'
'I am only too glad that you should find refuge in the old place.'
He wheeled a couple of ponderous carved-oak chairs close to the hearth,
and begged us to sit there; but Milly preferred standing in the noble
old gothic window looking out at the rain.
'They will be getting anxious about us at home,' she said, 'if we are
not back before dark.'
'I wish I possessed a close carriage to place at your service. I do,
indeed, boast of the ownership of a dog-cart, if you would not be
afraid of driving in such a barbarous vehicle when the rain is over. It
would keep you out of the mud, at any rate.'
Milly laughed gaily.
'I have been brought up in the country,' she said, 'and am not at all
afraid of driving in a dog-cart. I used often to go out with papa in
his, before he married.'
'Then, when the storm is over, I shall have the pleasure of driving you
to Thornleigh, if you will permit me that honour.'
Milly looked a little perplexed at this, and made some excuse about not
wishing to cause so much trouble.
'I really think we could walk home very well; don't you, Mary?' she
said; and I declared myself quite equal to the walk.
'It would be impossible for you to get back to Thornleigh before dark,'
the gentleman remonstrated. 'I shall be quite offended if you refuse
the use of my dog-cart, and insist on getting wet feet. I daresay your
feet are wet as it is, by the bye.'
We assured him of the thickness of our boots, and gave our shawls to
Mrs. Mills the old housekeeper, who carried them off to be dried in the
kitchen, and promised to convey the order about the dog-cart to the
I had time now to look at our new acquaintance, who was standing with
his shoulders against one angle of the high oak mantelpiece, watching
the rain beating against a window opposite to him. I had no difficulty
in recognising the original of that portrait which Augusta Darrell had
looked at so strangely. He was much older than when the portrait had
been taken—ten years at the least, I thought. In the picture he looked
little more than twenty, and I should have guessed him now to be on the
wrong side of thirty.
He was handsome still, but the dark powerful face had a sort of rugged
look, the heavy eyebrows overshadowed the sombre black eyes, a thick
fierce-looking moustache shrouded the mouth, but could not quite
conceal an expression, half cynical, half melancholy, that lurked about
the lowered corners of the full firm lips. He looked like a man whose
past life held some sad or sinful history.
I could fancy, as I looked at him, that last bitter interview with his
mother, and I could imagine how hard and cruel such a man might be
under the influence of an unpardonable wrong. Like Mrs. Darrell, I was
inclined to place myself on the side of the unfortunate lovers, rather
than on that of the mother, who had been willing to sacrifice her son's
happiness to her pride of race.
We all three remained silent for some little time, Milly and I standing
together in the window, Mr. Egerton leaning against the mantelpiece,
watching the rain with an absent look in his face. He roused himself at
last, as if with an effort, and came over to the window by which we
'It looks rather hopeless at present,' he said; 'but I shall spin you
over to Thornleigh in no time; so you mustn't be anxious. It is at
Thornleigh Manor you live, is it not?'
'Yes,' Milly answered. 'My name is Darrell, and this young lady is Miss
Crofton, my very dear friend.'
He bowed in recognition of this introduction.
'I thought as much—I mean as to your name being Darrell. I had the
honour to know Mr. Darrell very well when I was a lad, and I have a
vague recollection of a small child in white frock, who, I think, must
have been yourself. I have only been home a week, or I should have done
myself the pleasure of calling on your father.'
'Papa is in Paris,' Milly answered, 'with my stepmother.'
'Ah, he has married again, I hear. One of the many changes that have
come to pass since I was last in Yorkshire.'
'Have you returned for good, Mr. Egerton?'
'For good—or for evil—who knows?' he answered, with a careless laugh.
'As to whether I stay here so many weeks or so many years, that is a
matter of supreme uncertainty. I never am in the same mind very long
together. But I am heartily sick of knocking about abroad, and I cannot
possibly find life emptier or duller here than I have found it in
places that people call gay.'
'I can't fancy any one growing tired of such a place as the Priory,'
'"Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage." "'Tis in
ourselves that we are thus or thus." Cannot you fancy a man getting
utterly tired of himself and his own thoughts—knowing himself by
heart, and finding the lesson a dreary one? Perhaps not. A girl's life
seems all brightness. What should such happy young creatures know of
that arid waste of years that lies beyond a man's thirtieth birthday,
when his youth has not been a fortunate one? Ah, there is a break in
the sky yonder; the rain will be over presently.'
The rain did cease, as he had prophesied. The dog-cart was brought
round to the door by a clumsy-looking man in corduroy, who seemed half
groom, half gardener; and Mr. Egerton drove us home; Milly sitting next
him, I at the back. His horse was very good one, and the drive only
lasted a quarter of an hour, during which time our new acquaintance
talked very pleasantly to both of us.
I could not forget that Mr. Darrell had called him a bad man; but in
spite of that sweeping condemnation I could not bring myself to think
of him without a certain interest.
Of course Milly and I discussed Mr. Egerton as we sat over our snug
little tête-à-tête dinner, and we were both inclined to speak of his
blighted life in a pitying kind of way, and to blame his mother's
conduct, little as we knew of the details of the story. Our existences
were so quiet that this little incident made quite an event, and we
were apt to date things from that afternoon for some time afterwards.
A LITTLE MATCH-MAKING.
We heard nothing of Mr. Egerton for about three weeks, at the end of
which time we were invited to dine at the Rectory. The first person we
saw on going into the long, low, old-fashioned drawing-room was the
master of Cumber Priory leaning against the mantelpiece in his
favourite attitude. The Rector was not in the room when we arrived, and
Angus Egerton was talking to Mrs. Collingwood, who sat in a low chair
near the fire.
'Mr. Egerton has been telling me about your adventure in the wood,
Milly,' Mrs. Collingwood said, as she rose to receive us. 'I hope it
will be a warning to you to be more careful in future. I think that
Cumber Wood is altogether too dangerous a place for two young ladies
like you and Miss Crofton.'
'The safest place in the world,' cried Angus Egerton. 'I shall always
be at hand to come to the ladies' assistance, and shall pray for the
timely appearance of an infuriated bull, in order that I may
distinguish myself by something novel in the way of a rescue. I hear
that you are a very charming artist, Miss Darrell, and that you have
done some of our oaks and beeches the honour to immortalise them.'
There is no need for me to record all the airy empty talk of that
evening. It was a very pleasant evening. Angus Egerton had received his
first lessons in the classics from the kind old Rector, and had been
almost a son of the house in the past, the girls told me. He had
resumed his old place upon his return, and seemed really fond of these
friends, whom he had found ready to welcome him warmly in spite of all
rumours to his disadvantage that had floated to Thornleigh during the
years of his absence.
He was very clever, and seemed to have been everywhere, and to have
seen everything worth seeing that the world contained. He had read a
great deal too, in spite of his wandering life; and the fruit of his
reading cropped up pleasantly now and then in his conversation.
There were no other guests, except an old country squire, who talked of
nothing but his farming. Milly sat next Angus Egerton; and from my
place on the other side of the table I could see how much she was
interested in his talk. He did not stop long in the dining-room after
we had left, but joined us as we sat round the fire in the
drawing-room, talking over the poor people with Mrs. Collingwood and
her two daughters, who were great authorities upon the question, and
held a Dorcas society once a week, of which Milly and I were members.
There was the usual music—a little playing and a little singing from
the younger ladies of the company, myself included. Milly sang an
English ballad very sweetly, and Angus Egerton stood by the piano
looking down at her while she sang.
Did he fall in love with her upon this first happy evening that those
two spent together? I cannot tell; but it is certain that after that
evening, he seemed to haunt us in our walks, and, go where we would, we
were always meeting him, in company with a Scottish deerhound called
Nestor, of which Milly became very fond. When we met in this
half-accidental way he used to join us in our walk for a mile or two,
very often bearing us company till we were within a few paces of
These meetings, utterly accidental as they always were on our side,
were a source of some perplexity to me. I was not quite certain whether
I was right in sanctioning so close an acquaintance between Emily
Darrell and the master of Cumber Priory. I knew that her father thought
badly of him. Yet, what could I do? I was not old enough to pretend to
any authority over my darling, nor had her father invested me with any;
and I knew that her noble nature was worthy of all confidence. Beyond
this, I liked Angus Egerton, and was inclined to trust him. So the time
slipped away very pleasantly for all of us, and the friendship among us
all three became closer day by day.
We met Mr. Egerton very often at the Rectory, and sometimes at other
houses where we visited. He was much liked by the Thornleigh people,
who had, most of them, known him in his boyhood; and it was considered
by his old friends, that, whatever his career abroad might have been,
he had begun, and was steadily pursuing, a reformed course of life. His
means did not enable him to do much, but he was doing a little towards
the improvement of Cumber Priory; and his existence there was as simple
as that of the Master of Ravenswood.
I had noticed that Mrs. Collingwood did all in her power to encourage
the friendship between Milly and Mr. Egerton, and one day in the
spring, after they had met a great many times at her house, she spoke
to me of her hopes quite openly.
It was a bright afternoon, and we were all strolling in the garden,
after a game of croquet—the Rector's wife and I side by side, Milly
and Angus a little way in front of us.
'I think she likes him,' Mrs. Collingwood said thoughtfully.
'Everybody seems to like Mr. Egerton,' I answered.
'O yes, I know that; but I mean something more than the ordinary
liking. I am so anxious that he should marry—and marry wisely. I think
I am almost as fond of him as if he were my son; and I should be so
pleased if I could be the means of bringing about a match between them.
Milly is just the girl to make a man happy, and her fortune would
restore Cumber Priory to all its old glory.'
Her fortune! The word jarred upon me. Was it her money, after all, that
Angus Egerton was thinking of when he took such pains to pursue my
'I should be sorry for her to marry any one who cared for her money,' I
'Of course, my dear Miss Crofton; and so should I be sorry to see her
throw herself away upon any one with whom her money was a paramount
consideration. But one cannot put these things quite out of the
question. I know that Angus admired her very much the first day he saw
her, and I fancy his admiration has grown into a warmer feeling since
then. He has said nothing to me upon the subject, nor I to him; for you
know how silent he always is about himself. But I cannot help wishing
that such a thing might come to pass. He has one of the best names in
the North Riding, and a first-rate position as the owner of Cumber
Priory. He only wants money.'
I was too young and inexperienced to take a worldly view of things, and
from this moment felt disposed to distrust Mr. Egerton. I remembered
the story of his early attachment, and told myself that a man who had
loved once like that had in all probability worn out his powers of
'I don't think Mr. Darrell would approve of, or even permit, such a
marriage,' I said presently. 'I know he has a very bad opinion of Mr.
'On what account?'
'On account of his conduct to his mother.'
'No one knows the secret of that affair except Angus himself,' answered
Mrs. Collingwood. 'I don't think any one has a right to think badly of
him upon that ground. I knew Mrs. Egerton very well. She was a proud
hard woman, capable of almost anything in order to accomplish any set
purpose of her own. Up to the time when he went to Oxford Angus had
been an excellent son.'
'Was it at Oxford he met the girl he wanted to marry?'
'No; it was somewhere in the west of England, where he went on a
walking tour during the long vacation.'
'He must have loved her very much, to act as he did. I should doubt his
power ever to love any one else.'
'That is quite a girl's way of thinking, my dear Miss Crofton. Depend
upon it, after that kind of stormy first love, there generally comes a
better and truer feeling. Angus was little more than a boy then. He is
in the prime of manhood now, able to judge wisely, and not easily to be
caught, or he would have married in all those years abroad.'
This seemed reasonable enough; but I was vexed, nevertheless, by Mrs.
Collingwood's match-making notions, which seemed to disturb the
peaceful progress of our lives. After this I looked upon every
invitation to the Rectory—where we never went without meeting Mr.
Egerton—as a kind of snare; but our visits there were always very
pleasant, and I grew in time to think with more indulgence of the
Rector's wife's desire for her favourite's advantage.
In all this time Angus Egerton had in no manner betrayed the state of
his feelings. If he met us in our walks oftener than seemed possible by
mere chance, there was nothing strictly lover-like in his tone or
conduct. But I have seen his face light up as he met my dear girl at
these times, and I have noticed a certain softening of his voice as he
talked to her, that I never heard on other occasions.
And she? About her feelings I had much less doubt. She tried her
uttermost to hide the truth from me, ashamed of her regard for one who
had never yet professed to be more than a friend; but I knew that she
loved him. It was impossible, in the perfect companionship and
confidence of our lives, for Milly to keep this first secret of her
pure young heart hidden from me. I knew that she loved him; and I began
to look forward anxiously to Mr. Darrell's return, which would relieve
me of all responsibility, and perhaps put an end to our friendship with
ON THE WATCH.
The travellers came back to Thornleigh Manor in August, when the days
were breathless and sultry, and the freshness of the foliage had
already begun to fade after an unusually dry summer. Milly and I had
been very happy together, and I think we both looked forward with a
vague dread to the coming break in our lives. She loved her father as
dearly as she had ever done, and longed ardently to see him again; but
she knew as well as I did that our independence must end with his
'If he were coming back alone, Mary,' she said—'if that marriage were
all a dream, and he were coming back alone—how happy I should be! I
know that of his own free will he would never come between me and any
wish of mine. But I don't know how he would act under his wife's
influence. You cannot imagine the power she has over him. And we shall
have to begin the old false life over again, she and I—disliking and
distrusting each other in our hearts—the daily round of civilities and
ceremonies and pretences. O Mary, you cannot think how I hate it.'
We had seen nothing of Julian Stormont during all the time of our happy
solitude; but on the day appointed for Mr. and Mrs. Darrell's return he
came to Thornleigh, looking more careworn than ever. I pitied him a
little, knowing the state of his feelings about Milly, believing indeed
that he loved her with a rare intensity, and being inclined to
attribute the change in him to his disappointment upon this subject.
Milly told him how ill he was looking, and he said something about hard
work and late hours, with a little bitter laugh.
'It doesn't matter to any one whether I am well or ill, you see,
Milly,' he said. 'What would any one care if I were to drop over the
side of the quay some dark night, on my way from the office to my
lodgings, after a hard day's work, and never be seen alive again?'
'How wicked it is of you to talk like that, Julian! There are plenty of
people who would care—papa, to begin with.'
'Well, I suppose my uncle William would be rather sorry. He would lose
a good man of business, and he would scarcely like going back to the
counting-house, and giving himself up to all the dry details of
commerce once more.'
The travellers arrived soon after this. Mr. Darrell greeted his
daughter with much tenderness; but I noticed a kind of languor in Mrs.
Darrell's embrace, very different from her reception of Milly at that
first meeting which I had witnessed more than a year before. It seemed
to me that her power over her husband was now supreme, and that she did
not trouble herself to keep up any pretence of affection for his only
She was dressed to perfection; and that subdued charm which was
scarcely beauty, and yet stood in place of it, attracted me to-day as
it had done when we first met. She was a woman who, I could imagine,
might be more admired than many handsomer women. There was a
distinction, an originality about the pale delicate face, dark arched
brows, and gray eyes—eyes which were at times very brilliant.
She looked round her without the faintest show of interest or
admiration as she loitered with her husband on the terrace, while
innumerable travelling-bags, shawls, books, newspapers, and packages
were being carried from the barouche to the house.
'How dry and burnt-up everything looks!' she said.
'Have you no better greeting than that for Thornleigh, my dear
Augusta?' Mr. Darrell asked in rather a wounded tone. 'I thought you
would be pleased to see the old place again.'
'Thornleigh Manor is not a passion of mine,' she answered. 'I hope you
will take a house in town at the beginning of next year.'
She passed on into the hall, after having honoured me with the coldest
possible shake-hands. We saw no more of her until nearly dinner-time,
when she came down to the drawing-room, dressed in white, and looking
deliciously pale and cool in the sultry weather. Milly had spent the
afternoon in going round the gardens and home-farm with her father, and
had thoroughly enjoyed the delight of a couple of hours alone with him.
She gave him up now to Mrs. Darrell, who devoted all her attention to
him for the rest of the evening; while Julian Stormont, Milly, and I
loitered about the garden, and played a desultory game of croquet.
It was not until the next morning that Mr. Egerton's name was
mentioned, although it had been in my thoughts, and I cannot doubt in
Milly's, ever since Mr. Darrell's arrival. We were in the drawing-room
after breakfast, not quite decided what to do with the day, when Mr.
Darrell came into the room dressed for a ride with his wife. He went
over to the window by which Milly was standing.
'You have quite given up riding, Ellis tells me, my dear,' he said.
'I have not cared to ride while you were away, papa, as Mary does not
'Miss Crofton might have learnt to ride; there would always be a horse
at her disposal.'
'We like walking better,' Milly said, blushing a little, and fidgeting
nervously with one of the buttons on her father's coat. 'I used to feel
in the way, you know, when I rode with you and Mrs. Darrell.'
'That was your own fault, Milly,' he answered, with a displeased look.
'I suppose it was. But I think Augusta felt it too. O, by the bye,
papa, I did not tell you quite all the news when we were out together
'No; I forgot to mention that Mr. Egerton has come back.'
'Yes; he came back last winter.'
'You never said so in your letters.'
'Didn't I? I suppose that was because I knew you were rather prejudiced
against him; and one can't explain away that kind of thing in a letter.'
'You would find it very difficult to explain away my dislike of Angus
Egerton, either in or out of a letter. Have you seen much of him?'
'A good deal. He has been at the Rectory very often when Mary and I
have been invited there. The Collingwoods are very fond of him. I am
sure—I think—you will like him, papa, when you come to see a little
of him. He is going to call upon you.'
'He can come if he pleases,' Mr. Darrell answered with an indifferent
air; 'I shall not be uncivil to him. But I am rather sorry that he has
made such a favourable impression upon you, Milly.'
She was still playing with the buttons of his coat, looking downward,
her dark eyes quite veiled by their long lashes.
'I did not say that, papa,' she murmured shyly.
'But I am sure of it from your manner. Has he done anything towards the
improvement of Cumber?'
'O yes; he has put new roofs to some part of the stables; and the land
is in better order, they say; and the gardens are kept nicely now.'
'Does he live alone at the Priory?'
'Quite alone, papa.'
'He must find it rather a dull business, I should think.'
'Mr. Collingwood says he is very fond of study, and that he has a
wonderful collection of old books. He is a great smoker too, I believe;
he walks a good deal; and he hunted all last winter. They say he is a
Augusta Darrell came in at this moment, ready for her ride. Her slim
willowy figure looked to great advantage in the plain tight-fitting
cloth habit; and the little felt hat with its bright scarlet feather
gave a coquettish expression to her face. She tapped her husband
lightly on the arm with her riding-whip.
'Now, William, if your are quite ready.'
'My dearest, I have been waiting for the last half-hour.'
They went off to their horses. Milly followed them to the terrace, and
watched them as they rode away.
We spent the morning out-of-doors sketching, with Julian Stormont in
attendance upon us. At two o'clock we all meet at luncheon.
After luncheon Milly and I went to the drawing-room, while Mrs. Darrell
and Mr. Stormont strolled upon the terrace. My dear girl had a sort of
restless manner to-day, and went from one occupation to another, now
sitting for a few minutes at the piano, playing brief snatches of
pensive melody, now taking up a book, only to throw it down again with
a little weary sigh. She seated herself at a table presently, and began
to arrange the sketches in her portfolio. While she was doing this a
servant announced Mr. Egerton. She rose hurriedly, blushing as I had
rarely seen her blush before, and looking towards the open window near
her, almost as if she would have liked to make her escape from the
room. It was the first time Angus Egerton had been at Thornleigh Manor
since she was a little child.
'Tell papa that Mr. Egerton is here, Filby,' she said to the servant.
'I think you will find him in the library.'
She had recovered her self-possession in some measure by the time she
came forward to shake hands with the visitor; and in a few minutes we
were talking in the usual easy friendly way.
'You see, I have lost no time in calling upon your papa, Miss Darrell,'
he said presently. 'I am not too proud to show him how anxious I am to
regain his friendship, if, indeed, I ever possessed it.'
Mr. Darrell came into the room as he was speaking; and however coldly
he might have intended to receive the master of Cumber Priory, his
manner soon softened and grew more cordial. There was a certain kind of
charm about Angus Egerton, not very easily to be described, which I
think had a potent influence upon all who knew him.
I fancied that Mr. Darrell felt this, and struggled against it, and
ended by giving way to it. I saw that he watched his daughter closely,
even anxiously, when she was talking to Angus Egerton, as if he had
already some suspicion about the state of her feelings with regard to
him. Mr. Egerton had caught sight of the open portfolio, and had
insisted on looking over the sketches—not the first of Milly's that he
had seen by a great many. I noticed the grave, almost tender, smile
with which he looked at the little artistic 'bits' out of Cumber Wood.
He went on talking to Mr. Darrell all the time he was looking at these
sketches; talking of the neighbourhood and the changes that had come
about of late years, and a little of the Priory, and his intentions
with regard to improvements.
'I can only creep along at a snail's pace,' he said; 'for I am
determined not to get into debt, and I won't sell.'
'I wonder you never tried to let the priory in all those years that you
were abroad,' suggested Mr. Darrell.
Mr. Egerton shook his head, with a smile.
'I couldn't bring myself to that,' he said, 'though I wanted money
badly enough. There has never been a strange master at Cumber since it
belonged to the Egertons. I daresay it's a foolish piece of
sentimentality on my part; but I had rather fancy the old place rotting
slowly to decay than in the occupation of strangers.'
He was standing by the table where the open portfolio lay, with Milly
by his side, and one of the sketches in his hands, when Mrs. Darrell
came in at the window nearest to this little group, and stood on the
threshold looking at him. I think I was the only person who saw her
face at that moment. It was so sudden a look that came upon it, a look
half terror, half pain, and it passed away so quickly, that I had
scarcely time to distinguish the expression before it was gone; but it
was a look that brought back to my memory the almost forgotten scene in
the little study at Cumber Priory, and set me wondering what it could
be that made the sight of Angus Egerton, either on canvas or in the
flesh, a cause of agitation to Milly's stepmother.
In the next moment Mr. Darrell was presenting his visitor to his wife;
and as the two acknowledged the introduction, I stole a glance at Mr.
Egerton's face. It was paler than usual; and the expression of Mrs.
Darrell's countenance seemed in a manner reflected in it. It was not
possible that such looks could be without some significance. I felt
convinced that these two people had met before.
There was a change in Mr. Egerton's manner from the moment of that
introduction. He laid down Milly's sketch without another word, and
stood with his eyes fixed on Augusta Darrell's face with a strange
half-bewildered look, like a man who doubts the evidence of his own
senses. Mrs. Darrell, on the contrary, seemed, after that one look
which I had seen, quite at her ease, and rattled on gaily about the
delight of travelling in the Tyrol, as compared to the dulness of life
'I hope you will enliven us a little, Mr. Egerton,' she said. 'It is
quite an agreeable surprise to find a new neighbour.'
'I ought to be very much flattered by that remark; but I doubt my power
to add to the liveliness of this part of the world. And I do not think
I shall stay much longer at Cumber.'
Milly glanced up at him with a surprised look.
'Mrs. Collingwood told us you were quite settled at the Priory,' she
said, 'and that you intended to spend the rest of your days as a
'I may have dreamed such a dream sometimes, Miss Darrell; but there are
dreams that never fulfil themselves.'
He had recovered himself by this time, and spoke in his accustomed
tone. Mr. Darrell asked him to dinner on an early day, when I knew the
Rectory people were coming to us, and the invitation was accepted.
Julian Stormont had followed Mrs. Darrell in from the terrace, and had
remained in the background, a very attentive listener and observer
during the conversation that followed.
'So that is Angus Egerton,' he said, when our visitor had left us.
'Yes, Julian. O, by the bye, I forgot to introduce you; you came in so
quietly,' answered Mr. Darrell.
'I can't say I particularly care about the honour of knowing that
gentleman,' said Mr. Stormont in a half-contemptuous tone.
'Why not?' Milly asked quickly.
'Because I never heard any good of him.'
'But he has reformed, it seems,' said Mr. Darrell, 'and is leading
quite a steady life at Cumber, the Collingwoods tell me. Augusta and I
called at the Rectory this morning, and the Rector and his wife talked
a good deal of him. I was rather pleased with him, I confess, just now.'
Milly looked up at her father gratefully. Poor child! how innocently
and unconsciously she betrayed her secret! and how little she thought
of the jealous eyes that were watching her! I saw Julian Stormont's
face darken with an angry look, and I knew that he had already
discovered the state of Milly's feelings in relation to Angus Egerton.
He was still with us when Mr. Egerton came to dinner two days later. I
shall never forget that evening. The day was oppressively warm, with
that dry sultry heat of which there had been so much during the latter
part of the summer; and as the afternoon advanced, the air grew still,
that palpable stillness which so often comes before a thunder-storm.
Milly had been full of life and vivacity all day, flitting from room to
room with a kind of joyous restlessness. She took unusual pains with
her toilette for so simple a party, and came into my room looking like
Titania in her gauzy white dress, with half-blown blush-roses in her
hair, and more roses in a bouquet at her waist.
Mr. Egerton came in a little later than the party from the Rectory, and
after shaking hands with Mr. Darrell, made his way at once to the place
where Milly and I were sitting.
'Any more sketching since I was here last, Miss Darrell?' he asked.
'No. I have been doing nothing for the last day or two.'
'Do you know I have been thinking of your work in that way a good deal
since I called here. I am stronger in criticism than in execution, you
know. I think I was giving you a little lecture on your shortcomings,
'Yes; but you left off so abruptly in the middle of it, that I don't
fancy it was very profitable to me,' Milly answered in rather a piqued
'Did I really? O yes, I remember. I was quite startled by Mrs.
Darrell's appearance. She is so surprisingly like a lady I knew a long
'That is rather a curious coincidence,' I said.
'How a coincidence?' asked Mr. Egerton.
'Mrs. Darrell said almost the same thing about your portrait when we
were at Cumber one day. It reminded her of some one she had known long
'What an excellent memory you have for small events, Miss Crofton!'
said a voice close behind me.
It was Mrs. Darrell's. She had come across the room towards us,
unobserved by me, at any rate. Whether Angus Egerton had seen her or
not, I do not know. He rose to shake hands with her, and then went on
talking about Milly's sketching.
Mr. Collingwood took Mrs. Darrell in to dinner, and Mr. Egerton gave
his arm to Milly, and was seated next her at the prettily decorated
table, upon which there was always a wealth of roses at this time of
year. I saw Augusta Darrell's eye wander restlessly in that direction
many times during dinner, and I felt that the dear girl I loved so
fondly was in an atmosphere of falsehood. What was the nature of the
past acquaintance between those two people? and why was it tacitly
denied by both of them? If it had been an ordinary friendship, there
could have been no reason for this concealment and suppression. I had
never quite made up my mind to trust Angus Egerton, though I liked and
admired him; and this mysterious relation between him and Augusta
Darrell was a sufficient cause for serious distrust.
'I wish she cared for him less,' I said to myself, as I glanced at
Milly's bright happy face.
When we went back to the drawing-room after dinner, the Miss
Collingwoods had a great deal to say to Milly about a grand
croquet-match which was to take place in a week or two at Pensildon,
Sir John and Lady Pensildon's place, fourteen miles from Thornleigh.
The Rector's daughters, both of whom were several years older than
Milly, were passionately fond of croquet and everything in the way of
gaiety, and were full of excitement about this coming event, discussing
what they were going to wear, and what Milly was going to wear, on the
occasion. While they were engaged in this way, Mrs. Collingwood told me
a long story about one of her poor parishioners, always an
inexhaustible subject with her. This arrangement left Mrs. Darrell
unoccupied; and after standing at one of the open windows looking
listlessly out, she sauntered out upon the terrace, her favourite
lounge always in this summer weather. I saw her repass the windows a
few minutes afterwards, in earnest conversation with Angus Egerton.
This was some time before the other gentlemen left the dining-room; and
they were still walking slowly up and down when Mr. Darrell and the
Rector came to the drawing-room. The storm had not yet come, and it was
bright moonlight. Mr. Darrell went out and brought his wife in, with
some gentle reproof on her imprudence in remaining out of doors so late
in her thin muslin dress.
After this there came some music. Augusta Darrell sang some old English
ballads which I had never heard her sing before—simple pathetic
melodies, which, I think, brought tears to the eyes of all of us.
Mr. Egerton sat near one of the open windows, with his face in shadow,
while she was singing; and as she began the last of these old songs he
rose with a half-impatient gesture, and went out upon the terrace. If I
watched him closely, and others in relation to him, at this time, it
was from no frivolous or impertinent curiosity, but because I felt very
certain that my darling's happiness was at stake. I saw her little
disappointed look when he remained at the farther end of the room,
talking to the gentlemen, all the rest of that evening, instead of
contriving by some means to be near her, as he always had done during
our pleasant evenings at the Rectory.
ANGUS EGERTON IS REJECTED.
The expected storm came next day, and Milly and I were caught in it. We
had gone for a ramble across the moor, and were luckily within a short
distance of Rebecca Thatcher's cottage when the first vivid flash broke
through the leaden clouds, and the first long peal of thunder came
crashing over the open landscape. We set off for Mrs. Thatcher's
habitation at a run, and arrived there breathless.
The herbalist was not alone. A tall dark figure stood between us and
the little window as we went in, blotting out all the light.
Milly gave a faint cry of surprise; and as the figure turned towards us
I recognised Mr. Egerton.
In all our visits among the poor we had never met him before.
'Caught again, young ladies!' he cried, laughing; 'you've neither of
you grown weatherwise yet, I see. Luckily you're under cover before the
rain has begun. I think we shall have it pretty heavy presently. How
surprised you look to see me here, Miss Darrell! Becky is a very old
friend of mine. I remember her ever since I can remember anything. She
was in my grandfather's service once upon a time.'
'That I was, Mr. Egerton, and there's nothing I wouldn't do for you and
yours—for you at least, for there's none but you left now. But I
suppose you'll be getting married one of these days; you're not going
to let the old name of Egerton die out?'
Angus Egerton shook his head with a slow sad gesture.
'I am too poor to marry, Mrs. Thatcher,' he said. 'What could I offer a
wife but a gloomy old house, and a perpetual struggle to make hundreds
do the work of thousands? I am too proud to ask the woman I love to
sacrifice her future to me.'
'Cumber Priory is good enough for any woman that ever lived,' answered
Rebecca Thatcher. 'You don't mean what you say, Mr. Egerton. You know
that the name you bear is counted better than money in these parts.'
He laughed, and changed the conversation.
'I heard you young ladies talking a great deal of the Pensildon fête
last night,' he said.
'Did you really?' asked Milly; 'you did not appear to be much
interested in our conversation.'
'Did I seem distrait? It is a way I have sometimes, Miss Darrell; but I
can assure you I can hear two or three conversations at once. I think I
heard all that you and the Miss Collingwoods were saying.'
'You are going to Lady Pensildon's on the 31st, I suppose?' Milly said.
'I think not. I think of going abroad for the autumn. I have been
rather a long time at Cumber, you know, and I'm afraid the roving mood
is coming upon me again. I shall be sorry to go, too, for I had
intended to torment you continually about your art studies. You have
really a genius for landscape, you know, Miss Darrell; you only want to
be goaded into industry now and then by some severe critic like myself.
Is your cousin, Mr. Stormont, an artist, by the way?'
'Not at all.'
'That's a pity. He seems a clever young man. I suppose he will be a
good deal with you, now that Mr. and Mrs. Darrell have returned?'
'He cannot stay very long at a time. He has the chief position in
'Indeed! He looked a little as if the cares of business weighed upon
He glanced rather curiously at Milly while he was speaking of Mr.
Stormont. Was he really going away, I wondered, or was that threat of
departure only a lover-like ruse?
The rain came presently with all the violence usual to a
thunder-shower. We were prisoners in Mrs. Thatcher's cottage for more
than an hour; a happy hour, I think, to Milly, in spite of the
closeness of the atmosphere and the medical odour of the herbs. Angus
Egerton stood beside her chair all the time, looking down at her bright
face and talking to her; while Mrs. Thatcher mumbled a long catalogue
of her ailments and troubles into my somewhat inattentive ear.
Once while those two were talking about his intended departure I heard
Mr. Egerton say,
'If I thought any one cared about my staying—if I could believe that
any one would miss me ever so little—I should be in no hurry to leave
Of course Milly told him that there were many people who would miss
him—Mr. Collingwood for instance, and all the family at the Rectory.
He bent over her, and said something in a very low voice—something
that brought vivid blushes to her face; and a few minutes afterwards
they went to the door to look at the weather, and stood there talking
till I had heard the last of Mrs. Thatcher's woes, and was free to join
them. I had never seen Milly look so lovely as she did just then, with
her downcast eyes, and a little tremulous smile upon her perfect mouth.
Mr. Egerton walked all the way home with us. The storm was quite over,
the sun shining, and the air full of that cool freshness which comes
after rain. We talked of all kinds of things. Mr. Egerton had almost
made up his mind to spend the autumn at Cumber, he told us; and he
would go to the Pensildon fête, and take Milly's side in the
croquet-match. He seemed in almost boyish spirits during that homeward
When we went up-stairs to our rooms that night, Milly followed me into
mine. There was nothing new in this; we often wasted half an hour in
happy idle talk before going to bed; but I was sure from my darling's
manner she had something to tell me. She went over to an open window,
and stood there with her face turned away from me, looking out across
the distant moonlit sea.
'Mary,' she said, after a very long pause, 'do you think people are
intended to be quite happy in this world?'
'My dear love, how can I answer such a question as that? I think that
many people have their lives in their own hands, and that it rests with
themselves to find happiness. And there are many natures that are
elevated and purified by sorrow. I cannot tell what is best for us,
dear. I cannot pretend to guess what this life was meant to be.'
'There is something in perfect happiness that frightens one, Mary. It
seems as if it could not last. If it could, if I dared believe in it, I
should think that my life was going to be quite happy.'
'Why should it be otherwise, my dear Milly? I don't think you have ever
known much sorrow.'
'Not since my mother died—and I was only a child then—but that old
pain has never quite gone out of my heart; and papa's marriage has been
a greater grief to me than you would believe, Mary. This house has
never seemed to be really my home since then. No, dear, it is a new
life that is dawning for me—and O, such a bright one!'
She put her arms round my neck, and hid her face upon my shoulder.
'Can you guess what Angus Egerton said to me to-day?' she asked, in a
low tremulous voice.
'Was it something very wonderful, dear—or something as old as the
world we live in?'
'Not old to me, Mary—new and wonderful beyond all measure. I did not
think he cared for me—I had never dared to hope; for I have liked him
a little for a long time, dear, though I don't suppose you ever thought
'My dear girl, I have known it from the very beginning. There is
nothing in the world more transparent than your thoughts about Angus
Egerton have been to me.'
'O Mary, how could you! And I have been so careful to say nothing!' she
cried reproachfully. 'But he loves me, dear. He has loved me for a long
time, he says; and he has asked me to be his wife.'
'What, after all those protestations about never asking a woman to
share his poverty?'
'Yes, Mary; and he meant what he said. He told me that if I had been a
penniless girl, he should have proposed to me ever so long ago. And he
is to see papa to-morrow.'
'Do you think Mr. Darrell will ever consent to such a marriage, Milly?'
I asked gravely.
'Why should he not? He cannot go on thinking badly of Angus when every
one else thinks so well of him. You must have seen how he has softened
towards him since they met. Mr. Egerton's old family and position are
quite an equivalent for my money, whatever that may be. O Mary, I don't
think papa can refuse his consent.'
'I am rather doubtful about that, Milly. It's one thing to like Mr.
Egerton very well as a visitor—quite another to accept him as a
son-in-law. Frankly, my dearest, I fear your father will be against the
'Mary,' cried Milly reproachfully, 'I can see what it is—you are
prejudiced against Mr. Egerton.'
'I am only anxious for your welfare, darling. I like Mr. Egerton very
much. It is difficult for any one to avoid liking him. But I confess
that I cannot bring myself to put entire trust in him.'
I did not like to tell her the chief reason for my distrust—that
mysterious relation between Angus Egerton and Mrs. Darrell. The subject
was a serious—almost a dangerous—one; and I had no positive evidence
to bring forward in proof of my fancy. It was a question of looks and
words that had been full of significance to me, but which might seem to
Milly to mean very little.
'We cannot help our instinctive doubts, dear. But if you can trust Mr.
Egerton, and if your father can trust him, my fancies can matter very
little. I cannot stand between you and your love, dear—I know that.'
'But you can make me very unhappy by your doubts, Mary,' she answered.
I kissed her, and did my best to console her; but she was not easily to
be comforted, and left me in a half-sorrowful, half-angry mood. I had
disappointed her, she told me—she had felt so sure of my sympathy; and
instead of sharing her happiness, I had made her miserable by my
fanciful doubts and gloomy forebodings. After she had gone, I sat by
the window for a long time, thinking of her disconsolately, and feeling
myself very guilty. But I had a fixed conviction that Mr. Darrell would
refuse to receive Angus Egerton as his daughter's suitor, and that the
course of this love-affair was not destined to be a smooth one.
The result proved that I had been right. Mr. Egerton had a long
interview with Mr. Darrell in the library next morning, during which
his proposal was most firmly rejected. Milly and I knew that he was in
the house, and my poor girl walked up and down our sitting-room with
nervously clasped hands and an ashy pale face all the time those two
were together down-stairs.
She turned to me with a little piteous look when she heard Angus
Egerton ride away from the front of the house.
'O Mary, what is my fate to be?' she asked. 'I think he has been
rejected. I do not think he would have gone away without seeing me if
the interview had ended happily.'
A servant came to summon us both to the library. We went down together,
Milly's cold hand clasped in mine.
Mr. Darrell was not alone. His wife was sitting with her back to the
window, very pale, and with an angry brightness in her eyes.
'Sit down, Miss Crofton,' Mr. Darrell said very coldly; 'and you,
Milly, come here.'
She went towards him with a slow faltering step, and sank down into the
chair to which he pointed, looking at him all the time in an eager
beseeching way that I think must have gone to his heart. He was
standing with his back to the empty fireplace, and remained standing
throughout the interview.
'I think you know that I love you, Milly,' he began, 'and that your
happiness is the chief desire of my mind.'
'I'm sure of that, papa.'
'And yet you have deceived me.'
'Deceived you? O papa, in what way?'
'By encouraging the hopes of a man whom you must have known I would
never receive as your husband; by suffering your feelings to become
engaged, without one word of warning to me, and in a manner that you
must have known could not fail to be most obnoxious to me.'
'O papa, I did not know; it was only yesterday that Mr. Egerton spoke
for the first time. There has been nothing hidden from you.'
'Nothing? Do you call your intimate acquaintance with this man nothing?
He may have delayed any actual declaration until my return—with an
artful appearance of consideration for me; but some kind of love-affair
must have been going on between you all the time.'
'No, indeed, papa; until yesterday there was never anything but the
most ordinary acquaintance. Mary knows—'
'Pray don't appeal to Miss Crofton,' her father interrupted sternly.
'Miss Crofton has done very wrong in encouraging this affair. Miss
Crofton heard my opinion of Angus Egerton a long time ago.'
'Mary has done nothing to encourage our acquaintance. It has been
altogether a matter of accident from first to last. What have you said
to Mr. Egerton, papa? Tell me at once, please.'
She said this with a quiet firmness, looking bravely up at him all the
'I have told him that nothing would induce me to consent to such a
marriage. I have forbidden him ever to see you again.'
'That seems very hard, papa.'
'I thought you knew my opinion of Mr. Egerton.'
'It would change if you knew more of him.'
'Never. I might like him very well as a member of society; I could
never approve of him as a son-in-law. Besides, I have other views for
you—long-cherished views—which I hope you will not disappoint.'
'I don't know what you mean by that, papa; but I know that I can never
marry any one except Mr. Egerton. I may never marry at all, if you
refuse to change your decision upon this subject; but I am quite sure I
shall never be the wife of any one else.'
Her father looked at her angrily. That hard expression about the lower
part of the face, which I had noticed in his portrait and in himself
from the very first, was intensified to-day. He looked a stern resolute
man, whose will was not to be moved by a daughter's pleading.
'We shall see about that by and by,' he said. 'I am not going to have
my plans defeated by a girl's folly. I have been a very indulgent
father, but I am not a weak or yielding one. You will have to obey me,
Milly, or you will find yourself a substantial sufferer by and by.'
'If you mean that you will disinherit me, papa, I am quite willing that
you should do that,' Milly answered resolutely. 'Perhaps you think Mr.
Egerton cares for my fortune. Put him to the test, papa. Tell him that
you will give me nothing, and that he may take me on that condition.'
Augusta Darrell turned upon her stepdaughter with a sudden look in her
face that was almost like a flame.
'Do you think him so disinterested?' she asked. 'Have you such supreme
confidence in his affection?'
'And you do not believe that mercenary considerations have any weight
with him? You do not think that he is eager to repair his shattered
fortunes? You think him all truth and devotion? He, a blasé man of
the world, of three-and-thirty; a man who has outlived the possibility
of anything like a real attachment; a man who lavished his whole stock
of feeling upon the one attachment of his youth.'
She said all this very quietly, but with a suppressed bitterness. I
think it needed all her powers of restraint to keep her from some
passionate outburst that would have betrayed the secret of her life. I
was now more than ever convinced that she had known Angus Egerton in
the past, and that she had loved him.
'You see, I am not afraid of his being put to the test,' Milly said
proudly. 'I know he loved some one very dearly, a long time ago. He
spoke of that yesterday. He told me that his old love had died out of
his heart years ago.'
'He told you a lie,' cried Mrs. Darrell. 'Such things never die. They
sleep, perhaps—like the creatures that hide themselves in the ground
and lie torpid all the winter—but with one breath of the past they
flame into life again.'
'I am not going to make any such foolish trial of your lover's faith,
Milly,' said Mr. Darrell. 'Whether your fortune is or is not a
paramount consideration with him can make no possible difference in my
decision. Nothing will ever induce me to consent to your marrying him.
Of course, if you choose to defy me, you are of age and your own
mistress; but on the day that makes you Angus Egerton's wife you will
cease to be my daughter.'
'Papa,' cried Milly, 'you will break my heart.'
'Nonsense, child; hearts are not easily broken. Let me hear no more of
this unfortunate business. I have spoken to you very plainly, in order
that there might be no chance of misunderstanding between us; and I
rely upon your honour that there shall be no clandestine meeting
between you and Angus Egerton in the future. I look to you, Miss
Crofton, also, and shall hold you answerable for any accidental
encounters out walking.'
'You need not be afraid, papa,' Milly answered disconsolately. 'I
daresay Mr. Egerton will leave Yorkshire, as he spoke of doing
'I hope he may,' said Mr. Darrell.
Milly rose to leave the room. Half-way towards the door she stopped,
and turned her white despairing face towards her father with a hopeless
'I shall obey you, papa,' she said. 'I could not bear to forfeit your
love, even for his sake. But I think you will break my heart.'
Mr. Darrell went over to her and kissed her.
'I am acting best for your ultimate happiness, Milly, be sure of that,'
he said in a kinder tone than he had used before. 'There, my love, go
and be happy with Miss Crofton, and let us all agree to forget this
business as quickly as possible.'
This was our dismissal. We went back to Milly's pretty sitting-room,
where the sun was shining and the warm summer air blowing on birds and
flowers, and books and drawing materials, and all the airy trifles that
had made our lives pleasant to us until that hour. Milly sat on a low
stool at my feet, and buried her face in my lap, refusing all comfort.
She sat like this for about an hour, weeping silently, and then rose
suddenly and wiped the tears from her pale face.
'I am not going to lead you a miserable life about this, Mary,' she
said. 'We will never speak of it after to-day. And I will try to do my
duty to papa, and bear my life without that new happiness, which made
it seem so bright. Do you think Mr. Egerton will feel the
disappointment very much, Mary?'
'He cannot help feeling it, dear, if he loves you—as I believe he
'And we might have been so happy together! I was dreaming of Cumber
Priory all last night. I thought it had been restored with some of my
money, and that the old house was full of life and brightness. Will he
go away, do you think, Mary?'
'I should think it very likely.'
'And I shall never see him any more. I could not forfeit papa's love,
'It would be a hard thing if you were to do that for the sake of a
'No, no, Mary; he is not a stranger to me; Angus Egerton is not a
stranger. I know that he is noble and good. But my father was all the
world to me a year ago. I could not do without his love. I must obey
'Believe me, dear, it will be wisest and best to do so. You cannot tell
what changes may come to pass in the future. Obedience will make you
very dear to your father; and the time may come in which he will think
better of Mr. Egerton.'
'O Mary, if I could hope that!'
'Hope for everything, dear, if you do your duty.'
She grew a little more cheerful after this, and met her father at
dinner with quite a placid face, though it was still very pale. Mrs.
Darrell looked at her wonderingly, and with a half-contemptuous
expression, I thought, as if this passion of her step-daughter's seemed
to her a very poor thing, after all.
Before the week was out, we heard that Mr. Egerton had left Yorkshire.
We did not go to the Pensildon fête. Milly had a cold and kept her
room, much to the regret of the Miss Collingwoods, who called every day
to inquire about her. She made this cold—which was really a very
slight affair—an excuse for a week's solitude, and at the end of that
time reappeared among us with no trace of her secret sorrow. It was
only I, who was always with her, and knew her to the core of her heart,
who could have told how hard a blow that disappointment had been, and
how much it cost her to bear it so quietly.
CHANGES AT THORNLEIGH.
The autumn and the early winter passed monotonously enough. There was a
good deal of company at Thornleigh Manor at first, for Mrs. Darrell
hated solitude; but after a little time she grew tired of the people
her husband knew, and the dinners and garden parties became less
frequent. I had found out, very soon after her return, that she was not
happy—that this easy prosperous life was in some manner a burden to
her. It was only in her husband's presence that she made any pretence
of being pleased or interested in things. With him she was always the
same—always deferential, affectionate, and attentive; while he, on his
side, was the devoted slave of her every whim and wish.
She was not unkind to Milly, but those two seemed instinctively to
avoid each other.
The winter brought trouble to Thornleigh Manor. It was well for Milly
that she had tried to do her duty to her father, and had submitted
herself patiently to his will. About a fortnight before Christmas Mr.
Darrell went to North Shields to make his annual investigation of the
wharves and warehouses, and to take a kind of review of the year's
business. He never returned alive. He was seized with an apoplectic fit
in the office, and carried to his hotel speechless. His wife and Milly
were summoned by a telegraphic message, and started for Shields by the
first train that could convey them there; but they were too late. He
expired an hour before their arrival.
I need not dwell upon the details of that sad time. Milly felt the blow
severely; and it was long before I saw her smile, after that dark
December day on which the fatal summons came. She had lost much of her
joyousness and brightness after the disappointment about Angus Egerton,
and this new sorrow quite crushed her.
They brought Mr. Darrell's remains to Thornleigh, and he was buried in
the family vault under the noble old church, where his father and
mother, his first wife, and a son who died in infancy had been buried
before him. He had been very popular in the neighbourhood, and was
sincerely regretted by all who had known him.
Julian Stormont was chief-mourner at the unpretentious funeral. He
seemed much affected by his uncle's death; and his manner towards his
cousin had an unusual gentleness.
I was present at the reading of the will, which took place in the
dining-room immediately after the funeral. Mrs. Darrell, Milly, Mr.
Stormont, myself, and the family lawyer were the only persons assembled
in the spacious room, which had a dreary look without the chief of the
The will had been made a few months after Mr. Darrell's second
marriage. It was very simple in its wording. To Julian Stormont he left
a sum of five thousand pounds, to be paid out his funded property; all
the rest of this property, with the sum to be realised by the sale of
the business at North Shields and its belongings—an amount likely to
be very large—was to be divided equally between Mrs. Darrell and her
stepdaughter. Thornleigh Manor was left to Mrs. Darrell for her life,
but was to revert to Milly, or Milly's heirs, at her death; and Milly
was to be entitled to occupy her old home until her marriage.
In the event of Milly's dying unmarried, her share of the funded
property was to be divided equally between Mrs. Darrell and Julian
Stormont, and in this case the Thornleigh estate was to revert to
Julian Stormont after the death of Mrs. Darrell. The executors to the
will were Mr. Foreman the lawyer and Mrs. Darrell.
Milly's position was now one of complete independence. Mr. Foreman told
her that after the sale of the iron-works she would have an income of
something like four thousand a year. She had been of age for more than
six months, and there was no one to come between her and perfect
Knowing this, I felt that it was more than probable Mr. Egerton would
speedily return to renew his suit; and I had little doubt that it would
be successful. I knew how well Milly loved him; and now that her father
was gone she could have no motive for refusing him.
'You will stay with me, won't you, Mary?' she said to me as we sat by
the fire in mournful silence that afternoon. 'You are my only comfort
now, dear. I suppose I shall remain here—for some time, at any rate.
Augusta spoke to me very graciously, and begged that I would make this
my home, according to my father's wish. We should not interfere with
each other in any way, she said, and it was indeed more than probable
she would go on the Continent with her maid early in the spring, and
leave me sole mistress of Thornleigh. She doubted if she could ever
endure the place now, she said. She is not like me, Mary. I shall
always have a melancholy love for the house in which I have lived so
happily with my father.'
So I remained with my dear girl, and life at Thornleigh Manor glided by
in a quiet melancholy fashion. If Mrs. Darrell grieved for her dead
husband, her sorrow was of a cold tearless kind; but she kept her own
rooms a good deal, and we did not see much of her. The Collingwoods
were full of sympathy for their 'darling Milly,' and their affection
had some cheering influence upon her mind. From them she heard
occasionally of Mr. Egerton, who was travelling in the wildest regions
of Northern Europe. She very rarely spoke of him herself at this time;
and once when I mentioned his name she checked me reproachfully.
'Don't speak about him, Mary,' she said; 'I don't want to think of him.
It seems like a kind of treason against papa. It seems like taking
advantage of my dear father's death.'
'Would you refuse to marry him, Milly, if he were to come back to you,
now that you are your own mistress?'
'I don't know that, dear. I think I love him too much to do that. And
yet it would seem like a sin against my father.'
The spring months passed, and Milly brightened a little as the days
went by. She spent a deal of time amongst the poor; and I think her
devotion to that duty helped her to put aside her sorrow more than
anything else could have done. I was always with her, sharing in all
her work; and I do not believe she had a thought hidden from me at this
Mrs. Darrell had not gone abroad yet. She lived a useless, listless
life, doing nothing, and caring for nothing, as it seemed. More than
once she made preparations for her departure, and then changed her mind
at the last moment.
Late in June we heard of Mr. Egerton's return to Cumber; and a few days
after that he came to Thornleigh. Mrs. Darrell was in her own room,
Milly and I alone in the drawing-room, when he called. My poor girl
turned very pale, and the tears came into her eyes as she and Angus
Egerton met. He spoke of her loss with extreme delicacy, and was full
of tender sympathy. He had news to tell her of himself. A distant
relation of his mother's had died lately, leaving him six thousand a
year. He had come back to restore Cumber to its old splendour, and to
take his proper place in the county.
While they were talking together in low confidential tones, not at all
embarrassed by my presence, Mrs. Darrell came into the room. She was
paler than usual; but there was an animation in her face that had not
been there for a long time. She received Mr. Egerton very graciously,
and insisted upon his staying to dinner.
The evening passed very pleasantly. I had never seen Augusta Darrell so
agreeable, so fascinating, as she was that night. She touched the piano
for the first time since her husband's death, and sang and played with
all her old fire, keeping Angus Egerton a prisoner by the side of the
piano. Hers was not music to be heard with indifference by the coldest
He came again very soon, and came often. The restorations at Cumber had
begun, and he insisted on our driving over to see what he was going to
do. We went in compliance with this wish, and I could not but observe
how anxiously he questioned Milly as to her opinion of the alterations,
and how eagerly he sought for suggestions as to the arrangement and
decoration of the different rooms. We spent some hours in this
inspection, and stayed to luncheon, in the noble old tapestried
It was not very long before Mr. Egerton had renewed his suit, and had
been accepted. Had Mr. Darrell lived, the altered circumstances of the
suitor would, in all probability, have made some alteration in his
ideas upon this subject. He could no longer have supposed Angus Egerton
influenced by mercenary feelings.
My darling seemed perfectly happy in her engagement, and I shared her
happiness. I was always to live with her, she said, at Cumber as well
as at Thornleigh. She had told Angus this, and he was pleased that it
should be so. I thought that she would have no need of me in her wedded
days, and that this loving fancy of hers was not likely to be realised;
but I allowed her to cherish it—time enough for our parting when it
needs must come. My youth had been brightened by her love; and I should
be brave enough to face the world alone when she began her new life,
assured that in my day of trouble I should always find a haven in her
They were to be married in the following spring. Mr. Egerton had
pleaded hard for an earlier date; but Milly would not diminish her year
of mourning for her father, and he was fain to submit. The appointed
time was advanced from April to February. He was to take his young wife
abroad, and to show her all those scenes in which his wandering life
had been spent; and then they were to return to Cumber, and Milly was
to begin her career as the wife of a country squire.
Julian Stormont came to Thornleigh, and heard of the engagement from
Mrs. Darrell. He still occupied his old position in the business at
North Shields, which had been bought by a great capitalist in the iron
way. He received the news of Milly's betrothal very quietly; but he
proffered her no congratulations upon the subject. I happened to be on
the terrace alone with him one morning during his stay, waiting for
Milly to join me, when he spoke to me about this business.
'So my cousin is going to throw herself away upon that man?' he said.
'You must not call it throwing herself away, Mr. Stormont,' I answered;
'Mr. Egerton is devoted to your cousin, and the change in his
circumstances makes him a very good match for her.'
'The change in his circumstances has not changed the man,' he returned
in an angry tone. 'No good can come of such a marriage.'
'You have no right to say that, Mr. Stormont.'
'I have the right given me by conviction. A happy marriage!—no, it
will not be a happy marriage, be sure of that!'
He said this with a vindictive look that startled me, well as I knew
that he could not feel very kindly towards Milly's lover. The words
might mean little, but to me they sounded like a threat.
The summer that year was a divine one, and we spent the greater part of
our lives out of doors, driving, walking, sitting about the garden
sometimes until long after dark. It was weather in which it was a kind
of treason against Nature to waste an hour in the house.
We went very often for long rambles in Cumber Wood, winding up with an
afternoon tea-drinking in the little study at the Priory—a home-like
unceremonious entertainment which Milly delighted in. She used to seem
to me on those occasions like some happy child playing at being
mistress of the house.
Augusta Darrell was almost always with us. I was sorely puzzled and
perplexed by her conduct at this time. It seemed to be all that a kind
stepmother's could be. Her old indifferent air had quite vanished; she
was more cordial, more affectionately interested in Milly's happiness
than I had supposed it possible she could be. The girl was completely
melted by the change in her manner, and responded to this new warmth
with artless confidence in its reality.
I remembered all I had seen and all I had suspected, and I could not
bring myself to believe implicitly in Milly's stepmother. There was a
shadowy fear, a vague distrust in my mind, not to be put away.
As I have said, she was always with us, entering into all our simple
amusements with an appearance of girlish pleasure. Our picnics, our
sketching expeditions, our afternoon tea-parties at the Priory, our
croquet-matches with the Rector's daughters, seemed all alike agreeable
to her. I noticed that her toilet was always perfect on these
occasions, and that she neglected no art which could add to her
attractiveness; but she never in any way attempted to absorb Mr.
Egerton's attention—she never ignored his position as Milly's accepted
For a long time I was deceived by her manner—almost convinced that if
she had ever cared for Angus Egerton in the past, it was a passion that
had died out of her heart. But there came a day when one look of hers
betrayed the real state of the case, and showed me that all this
newly-awakened regard for Milly, and pleasant participation in her
happiness, had been only a careful piece of acting. It was nothing but
a look—one earnest, despairing, passionate look—that told me this,
but it was a look that betrayed the secret of a life. From that moment
I never again trusted Augusta Darrell.
With the beginning of autumn the weather changed, and there came a dull
rainy season. Trouble came to us with the change of the weather. There
was a good deal of low fever about Thornleigh, and Milly caught it. She
had never neglected her visit amongst the poor, even in favour of those
pleasant engagements with Angus Egerton; and there is no doubt she had
taken the fever from some of the cottagers.
She was not alarmingly ill, nor was the fever supposed to be
contagious, except under certain conditions. Mr. Hale, the Thornleigh
doctor, made very light of the business, and assured us that his
patient would be as well as ever in a week's time. But in the mean
while my dear girl kept her room, and I nursed her, with the assistance
of her devoted little maid.
Mr. Egerton came every day, generally twice a day, to inquire about the
invalid's progress, and would stay for half an hour, or longer, talking
to Mrs. Darrell or to me. He was very much depressed by this illness,
and impatient for his betrothed's recovery. He had been strictly
forbidden to see her, as perfect repose was an essential condition to
The week was nearly over, and Milly had improved considerably. She was
now able to sit up for an hour or two every day, and the doctor
promised Mr. Egerton that she should be in the drawing-room early in
the following week. The weather had been incessantly wet during this
time—dull, hopeless, perpetual rain day after day, without a break in
the leaden sky. But at last there came a fine evening, and I went down
to the terrace to take a solitary walk after my long imprisonment. It
was between six and seven o'clock; Milly was asleep, and there was no
probability of my being wanted in the sick-room for half an hour or so.
I left ample instructions with my handy little assistant, and went down
for my constitutional, muffled in a warm shawl.
It was dusk when I went out, and everything was unusually quiet, not a
leaf was stirring in the stagnant atmosphere. Late as it was, the
evening was almost oppressively warm, and I was glad to throw off my
shawl. I walked up and down the terrace in front of the Hall for about
ten minutes, and then went round towards the drawing-room windows.
Before I had quite reached the first of these, I was arrested by a
sound so strange that I stopped involuntarily to listen. Throughout all
that followed, I had no time to consider whether I was doing right or
wrong in hearing what I did hear; but I believe if I had had ample
leisure for deliberation, it would have come to the same thing—I
should have listened. What I heard was of such vital consequence to the
girl I loved, that I think loyalty to her outweighed any treachery
against the speaker.
The strange sound that brought me to a standstill close to the
wide-open window was the sound of a woman's passionate sobbing—such a
storm of weeping as one does not hear many times in a life. I have
never heard anything like it until that night.
Angus Egerton's sonorous voice broke in upon those tempestuous sobs
'Augusta, this is supreme folly.'
The sobs went on for some minutes longer unchecked. I heard his step
sounding heavily as he walked up and down the room.
'I am waiting to hear the meaning of all this,' he said by and by. 'I
suppose there is some meaning.'
'O Angus, is it so easy for you to forget the past?'
'It was forgotten long ago,' he answered, 'by both of us, I should
think. When my mother bribed you to leave Ilfracombe, you bartered my
love and my happiness for the petty price she was able to pay. I was a
weak fool in those days, and I took the business to heart bitterly
enough, God knows; but the lesson was a useful one, and it served its
turn. I have never trusted myself to love any woman since that day,
till I met the pure young creature who is to be my wife. Her truth is
above all doubt; she will not sell her birthright for a mess of
'The mess of pottage was not for me, Angus. It was my father's bargain,
not mine. I was told that you had done with me—that you had never
meant to marry me. Yes, Angus, your mother told me that with her own
lips—told me that she interfered to save me from misery and dishonour.
And then I was hurried off to a cheap French convent, to learn to
provide for myself. A couple of years' schooling was the price I
received for my broken heart. That was what your mother called making
me a lady. I think I should have gone mad in those two dreary years, if
it had not been for my passionate love of music. I gave myself up to
that with my whole soul; my heart was dead; and they told me I made
more progress in two years than other girls made in six. I had nothing
else to live for.'
'Except the hope of a rich husband,' said Mr. Egerton, with a sneer.
'O God, how cruel a man can to be a woman he has once loved!' cried
Mrs. Darrell passionately. 'Yes, I did marry a rich man, Angus; but I
never schemed or tried to win him. The chance came to me without a hope
or a thought of mine. It was the chance of rescue from the dreariest
life of drudgery that a poor dependent creature ever lived, and I took
it. But I have never forgotten you, Angus Egerton, not for one hour of
'I am sorry you should have taken the trouble to remember me,' he
answered very coldly. 'For some years of my life I made it my chief
business to forget you, and all the pain connected with our
acquaintance; and having succeeded in doing that, it seems a pity that
we should disturb the stagnant waters of that dead lake which men call
'Would to God that we had never met again!' she said.
'I can quite echo that aspiration, if we are likely to have many such
scenes as this.'
'Cruel—cruel!' she muttered. 'O Angus, I have been so patient! I have
clung to hope in the face of despair. When my husband died I fancied
your old love would reawaken. How can such things die? I thought it was
to me you would come back—to me, whom you once loved so
passionately—not to that girl. You came back to her, and still I was
patient. I set myself against her, to win back your love. Yes, Angus, I
hoped to do that till very lately. And then I began to see that it was
all useless. She is younger and handsomer than I.'
'She is better than you, Augusta. It was not her beauty that won me,
but something nobler and rarer than beauty: it was her perfect nature.
The more faulty we are ourselves, the more fondly we cling to a good
woman. But I don't want to say hard things, Augusta. Pray let us put
all this folly aside at once and for ever. You took your course in the
past, and it has landed you in a very prosperous position. Let me take
mine in the present, and let us be friends, if possible.'
'You know that it is not possible. We must be all the world to each
other, or the bitterest enemies.'
'I shall never be your enemy, Mrs. Darrell.'
'But I am yours; yes, I am yours from this night, and hers. You think I
can look on tamely, and see you devoted to that girl! I have only been
playing a part. I thought it was in my power to win you back.'
All this was said with a kind of passionate recklessness, as if the
speaker, having suddenly thrown off her mask, scarcely cared how
utterly she degraded herself.
'Good-night, Mrs. Darrell. You will think of these things more wisely
to-morrow. Let us be civil to each other, at least, while circumstances
bring us together; and for God's sake be kind to your stepdaughter! Do
not think of her as a rival; my love for you had died long before I saw
her. You need bear no malice against her on that account. Good-night.'
I heard the drawing-room door open and shut, and knew that he was gone.
I walked on past the open windows, not caring if Mrs. Darrell saw me.
It might be better for Milly, perhaps, that she should know I had heard
her secret, and had been put upon my guard. But I do not think she saw
It was about a quarter of an hour later when I went in, and it was
quite dark by that time. In the hall I met Mrs. Darrell, dressed for
'I am going round the shrubberies, Miss Crofton,' she said.
'Insupportably close to-night, is it not? I think we shall all have the
fever if this weather lasts.'
She did not wait for my answer, but passed out quickly. I went back to
Milly's room, and found her still sleeping peacefully. Ten minutes
afterwards I heard the rain beating against the windows, and knew that
it had set in for a wet night.
'Mrs. Darrell will not be able to go far,' I thought.
I sat by the bedside for some time thinking of what I had heard. It was
something to have had so strong a proof of Angus Egerton's loyalty to
my dear girl; and assured of that, I did not fear Mrs. Darrell's
malice. Yet I could not help wishing that the marriage had been
appointed for an earlier date, and that the time which stepmother and
daughter were to spend together had been shorter.
Milly woke, and sat up for about half an hour, supported by pillows, to
take a cup of tea, while I talked to her a little about the pleasantest
subjects I could think of. She asked if Mr. Egerton had been at
Thornleigh that evening.
'Yes, dear, he has been.'
'Did you see him, Mary?'
'No; I did not see him.'
She gave a little disappointed sigh. It was her delight to hear me
repeat his messages to her, word for word, ever so many times over.
'Then you have nothing to tell me about him, dear?'
'Nothing; except that I know he loves you.'
'Ah, Mary, there was a time when you doubted him.'
'That time is quite past and gone, dear.'
She kissed me as she gave me back her cup and saucer, and promised to
go to sleep again, while I went to my room to write a long letter home.
I was occupied in this way for more than an hour; and then, having
sealed my letter, went down with it to the hall, to put it on a table
where all letters intended to be taken to the post in the morning were
It was nearly ten o'clock by this time, and I was startled by the sound
of the hall-door opening softly from without, while I was putting down
my letter. I looked round quietly, and saw Mrs. Darrell coming in, with
'Good gracious me!' I cried involuntarily; 'have you been out all this
time in the rain, Mrs. Darrell?'
'Yes, I have been out in the rain, Miss Crofton,' she answered in a
vexed impatient tone. 'Is that so very shocking to your sober ideas of
propriety? I could not endure the house to-night. One has feverish
fancies sometimes—at least I have; and I preferred being out in the
rain to not being out at all. Good-night.'
She gave me a haughty nod, and ran up-stairs with a quick light step.
The old butler came to lock and bolt the hall-door as the clock struck
ten, according to unalterable custom; and I went back to my room,
wondering what could have kept Mrs. Darrell out so long—whether she
had been upon some special errand, or had only been wandering about the
grounds in a purposeless way.
For some days Milly went on very well; then there came a little change
for the worse. The symptoms were not quite so favourable. Mr. Hale
assured us that there was no reason for alarm, the recovery was only a
little retarded. He had not the least doubt that all would go well. Mr.
Egerton was very quick to take fright, however, and insisted on Dr.
Lomond, a famous provincial physician, being summoned immediately from
The great man came, and his opinion coincided entirely with that of Mr.
Hale. There was not the slightest cause for fear. Careful nursing and
quiet were the two essential points. The patient's mind was to be made
as happy as possible. The physician made minute inquiries as to the
arrangements for attendance in the sick-room, and suggested a
professional nurse. But I pleaded so hard against this, assuring him of
my capacity for doing much more than I had to do, that he gave way, and
consented to Milly being waited only by myself and her maid.
Mrs. Darrell was present during this conversation, and I was rather
surprised by her taking my side of the question with regard to the
nursing, as it was her usual habit to oppose me upon all subjects.
To-day she was singularly gracious.
Another week went by, and there was no change for the better, nor any
very perceptible change for the worse. The patient was a little weaker,
and suffered from a depression of mind, against which all my efforts
Angus Egerton came twice daily during this week, but he rarely saw Mrs.
Darrell. I think he studiously avoided meeting her after that painful
scene in the drawing-room. It was for me he inquired, and he used to
come up-stairs to the corridor outside Milly's room, and stand there
talking to me in a low voice, and feeling a kind of satisfaction, I
believe, in being so near his darling.
Once I ventured to tell her that he was there, and to let him speak a
few words for her to hear. But the sound of the voice she loved so well
had such an agitating effect upon her, that I sorely repented my
imprudence, and took good care not to repeat it.
So the days went by, in that slow dreary way in which time passes when
those we love are ill; and it seemed, in the dead calm of the
sick-room, as if all the business of life had come to a stand-still.
I did not see much of Mrs. Darrell during this period. She came to
Milly's door two or three times a day to ask about her progress, with
all appearance of affection and anxiety; but throughout the rest of the
day she remained secluded in her own rooms. I noticed that she had a
wan haggard look at this time, like that of a person who had existed
for a long while without sleep; but this in no manner surprised me,
after that scene in the drawing-room.
As the time went by, I felt that my strength was beginning to fail, and
I sadly feared that we might have at last to employ the professional
aid which the Manchester physician had suggested. I had slept very
little from the beginning of Milly's illness, being too anxious to
sleep when I had the opportunity of doing so; and I now began to suffer
from the effects of this prolonged sleeplessness. But I struggled
resolutely against fatigue, determined to see my dear girl through the
fever if possible; and I succeeded wonderfully, by the aid of unlimited
cups of strong tea, and always ably seconded by Susan Dodd, Milly's
Between us we two performed all the duties of the sick-room. The
medicines, wine, soups, jellies, and all things required for the
invalid were kept in the dressing-room, which communicated with the
bedroom by one door, and had another door opening on to the corridor.
The sick-room, which was very large and airy, was by this means kept
free from all litter; and Susan and I took pleasure in making it look
bright and fresh. I used to fetch a bouquet from the garden every
morning for the little table by the bed. At the very commencement of
Milly's illness I had missed Peter, Mrs. Thatcher's grandson. I asked
one of the men what had become of him, and was told that he had taken
the fever and was lying ill at his grandmother's cottage. I mentioned
this to Mrs. Darrell, and asked her permission to send him some wine
and other little comforts, to which she assented.
The Manchester physician came a second time after a week's interval,
and on this occasion he was not so positive in his opinion as to the
case. He did not consider that there was peril as yet, he said; but the
patient was weaker, and he was by no means satisfied. He prescribed a
change of medicine, repeated his injunctions about care and quiet; and
so departed, after requesting Mr. Hale to telegraph for him in the
event of any change for the worse.
I was a good deal depressed by his manner this time, and went back to
my dear girl's room with a heavier heart than I had known since her
It was my habit to take whatever sleep I could in the course of the
afternoon, leaving Susan Dodd on guard, so as to be able to sit up all
night. Susan had begged very hard to share this night-watching, but I
insisted upon her taking her usual rest, so as to be bright and fresh
in the day. I felt the night-work was the more important duty, and
could trust that to no one but myself.
Unfortunately it happened very often that I was quite unable to sleep
when I went to my room in the afternoon to lie down. Half my time I
used to lie there wide awake thinking of my darling girl, and praying
for her speedy recovery. On the afternoon that followed the Manchester
doctor's second visit I went to my room as usual; but I was more than
ever disinclined to sleep. For the first time since the fever began I
felt a horrible dread that the end might be fatal; and I lay tossing
restlessly from side to side, meditating on every word and look of the
physician's, and trying to convince myself that there was no real
ground for my alarm.
I had been lying awake like this for more than an hour, when I heard
the door of Milly's dressing-room—which was close to my door—closed
softly; and with a nervous quickness to take alarm I sprang up, and
went out into the corridor, thinking that Susan was coming to summon
me. I found myself face to face, not with Susan Dodd, but with Mrs.
She gave a little start at seeing me, and stood with her hand still
upon the handle of the dressing-room door, looking at me with the
strangest expression I ever saw in any human countenance. Alarm,
defiance, hatred—what was it?
'I thought you were asleep,' she said.
'I have not been able to sleep this afternoon.'
'You are a bad person for a nurse, Miss Crofton, if you cannot sleep at
will. I am afraid you are nervous, too, by the way you darted out of
the room just now.'
'I heard that door shut, and thought Susan was coming to call me.'
'I had just been in to see how the invalid was going on—that is all.'
She passed me, and went back to her own apartments, which were on the
other side of the house. I felt that it was quite useless trying to
sleep; so I returned to my room only to change my dressing-gown for my
dress, and then went back to Milly. She had been sleeping very quietly,
Susan told me.
'I suppose you told Mrs. Darrell that all was going on well when she
came to inquire just now?' I said.
'Mrs. Darrell hasn't been since you went to lie down, miss,' the girl
answered, looking surprised at my question.
'Why, Susan, you must surely forget. Mrs. Darrell was in the
dressing-room scarcely ten minutes ago. I heard her coming out, and
went to see who was there. Didn't she come in here to inquire about
'No, indeed, miss.'
'Then I suppose she must have peeped in at the door and seen that Miss
Darrell was asleep,' I said.
'I don't see how she could have opened that door without my hearing
her, miss. It was shut fast, I know.'
It had been shut when I went in through the dressing-room. I was
puzzled by this incident, small as it was. I knew that Augusta Darrell
hated her stepdaughter, and I could not bear to think of that secret
enemy hovering about the sick-room. I was puzzled too by the look which
I had seen in her face—no common look, and not easy to be understood.
That she hated me, I had no doubt; but there had been fear as well as
aversion in that look, and I could not imagine any possible reason for
her fearing such an insignificant person as myself.
The rest of that evening and night passed without any event worth
recording. I kept the door of communication between the bedroom and
dressing-room wide open all night, determined that Augusta Darrell
should not be in that room without my knowledge; but the night passed,
and she never came near us.
When I went into the garden early the next morning to gather the
flowers for Milly's room, I found Peter at work again. He looked very
white and feeble, scarcely fit to be about just yet; but there he was,
sweeping the fallen leaves into little heaps, ready for his barrow. He
came to me while I was cutting the late roses for my bouquet, and asked
after Milly. When I had answered him he loitered by me for a little in
a curious way, as if he wanted to say something else; but I was too
full of my own thoughts and cares to pay much attention to him.
The next day, and the next, brought no change in my darling, and I was
growing every hour more anxious. I could see that Mr. Hale was puzzled
and uneasy, though he said he saw no reason for telegraphing to
Manchester, yet awhile. He was very attentive, and was reputed to be
very clever; and I knew that he was really attached to Milly, whom he
had attended from her infancy.
Angus Egerton saw me twice every day; and these brief interviews had
now become very painful to me. I found it so difficult to cheer him
with hopeful words, when my own heart was hourly growing heavier, and
the fears that had been vague and shadowy were gathering strength and
shape. I was very tired, but I held out resolutely; and I had never
once slept for so much as a quarter of an hour upon my watch, until the
second night after that meeting with Mrs. Darrell at the door of the
That night I was seized with an unconquerable sleepiness, about an hour
after I had dismissed Susan Dodd. The room was very quiet, not a sound
except the ticking of the pretty little clock upon the mantelpiece.
Milly was fast asleep, and I was sitting on a low chair by the fire
trying to read, when my drowsiness overcame me, my heavy eyelids fell,
and I went off into a feverish kind of slumber, in which I was troubled
with an uneasy consciousness that I ought to be awake.
I had slept in this way for a little more than an hour, when I suddenly
started up broad awake. [missing from source: In?] the intense quiet of
the room I had heard a sound like the chinking of glass, and I fancied
that Milly had stirred.
There was a table near her bed, with a glass of cooling drink and a
bottle of water upon it. I thought she must have stretched out her hand
for this glass, and that in so doing she had pushed the glass against
the bottle; but to my surprise I found her lying quite still, and fast
asleep. The sound must have come from some other direction—from the
I went into the dressing-room. There was no one there. No trace of the
smallest disturbance among the things. The medicine-bottles and the
medicine-glass stood on the little table exactly as I had left them. I
was very careful and precise in my arrangement of these things, and it
would have been difficult for the slightest interference with them to
have escaped me. What could that sound have been—some accidental
shiver of the glass, stirred by a breath of wind, one of those
mysterious movements of inanimate objects which are so apt to occur in
the dead hours of the night, and which seem always more or less ghostly
to a nervous watcher? Could it have been only accidental? or had Mrs.
Darrell been prowling stealthily in and out of that room again?
Why should she have been there? What could her secret coming and going
mean? What purpose could she have in hovering about the sick girl? what
could her hatred profit itself by such uneasy watchfulness, unless—
Unless what? An icy coldness came over me, and I shook like a leaf, as
a dreadful thought took shape in my mind. What if that desperate
woman's hatred took the most awful form? what if her secret presence in
that room meant murder?
I took up the medicine-bottle and examined it minutely. In colour, in
odour, in taste, the medicine seemed to me exactly what it had been
from the time it had been altered, in accordance with the Manchester
doctor's second prescription. Mr. Hale's label was on the bottle, and
the quantity of the contents was exactly what it had been after I gave
Milly her last dose—one dose gone out of the full bottle.
'O, no, no, no,' I thought to myself; 'I must be mad to imagine
anything so awful. A woman may be weak, and wicked, and jealous, when
she has loved as intensely as this woman seems to have loved Angus
Egerton; but that is no reason she should become a murderess.'
I stood with the medicine-bottle in my hand sorely perplexed. What
could I do? Should I suspend the medicine for to-night, at the risk of
retarding the cure? or should I give it in spite of that half suspicion
that it had been tampered with?
What ground had I for such a suspicion? At that moment nothing but the
sound that had awakened me, the chinking sound of one glass knocked
Had I really heard any such sound, or had it only been a delusion of my
half sleeping brain? While I stood weighing this question, a sudden
recollection flashed across my mind, and I had no longer ground for
The cork of the medicine-bottle, when I gave Milly her last dose, had
been too large for the bottle; so much so, that I had found it
difficult to put it in again after giving the medicine. The cork of the
bottle which I now held in my hand went in loosely enough. It was a
smaller and an older-looking cork. This decided me. I placed the bottle
under lock and key in Milly's wardrobe, and I gave her no more medicine
There was no fear of my sleeping at my post after this. My thoughts for
the rest of that night were full of horror and bewilderment. My course
seemed clear enough, in one respect. The proper person to confide in
would be Mr. Hale. He would be able to discover whether the medicine
had been tampered with, and it would be his business to protect his
I went down to the garden for the flowers as usual next morning, as I
did not wish to make any palpable change in my arrangements; but before
leaving the room I impressed upon Susan Dodd the necessity of remaining
with her mistress during every moment of my absence, though I knew I
had little need to counsel carefulness. Nothing was more unlikely than
that Susan would neglect her duty for a moment.
Peter came again, as he had come to me on the previous morning. Again
he lingered about me, as if he had something more to say, and could not
take courage to say it. This time the strangeness of his manner aroused
my curiosity, and I asked him if he had anything particular to say to
'You must be quick, Peter, whatever it is,' I said; 'for I am in a
great hurry to get back to Miss Darrell.'
'There is something I want to say, miss,' he answered, twisting his
ragged straw hat round and round in his bony hands, in a nervous
way,—'something I should like to say, but I'm naught but a poor fondy,
and don't know how to begin. Only you've been very good to Peter, you
see, miss, sending wine and such things when I was ill, and I ain't
afeard o' you, as I am o' some folks.'
'The wine was not mine, Peter. Be quick, please; tell me what you want
'I can't come to it very easy, miss. It's something awful-like to tell
The boy had looked round him with a cautious glance, and was now
standing close to me, with his light blue eyes fixed upon my face in a
very earnest way.
'Speak out, Peter,' I said; 'you needn't be afraid of me.'
'It happened when I was ill, you see, miss, and I've sometimes thought
as it might be no more than a dream. I had a many dreams while I were
lying on that little bed in grandmother's room, wicked dreams, and this
might be one of them; and yet it's real-like, and there isn't the
muddle in it that there is in the other dreams.'
'What is it, Peter? O, pray, pray be quick!'
'I'm a-coming to it, miss. Is it wicked for folks to kill theirselves?'
'Is it wicked? Of course it is—desperately wicked; a sin that can
never be repented of.'
'Then I know one that's going to do it.'
He gave a solemn nod, and stood staring at me with wide-open
'How do you know that?'
'It was one dark night, when it was raining hard—I could hear it drip,
drip, drip upon the roof just over where I was lying. It was when I was
very bad, and lay still all day and couldn't speak. But I knew what
grandmother said to me, and I knew everything that was going on, though
I didn't seem to—that was the curious part of it. I had been asleep
for a bit, and I woke up all of a sudden, and heard some one talking to
grandmother in the next room—the door wasn't wide open, only ajar. I
shouldn't have known who it was, for I'm not quick at telling voices,
like other folks; but I heard grandmother call her Mrs. Darrell; and I
heard the lady say that when one was sick and tired of life, and had no
one left to live for, it was best to die; and grandmother laughed, and
says yes, there wasn't much to live for, leastways not for such as her.
And then they talked a little more; and then by and by Mrs. Darrell
asked her for some stuff—I didn't hear the name of it, for Mrs.
Darrell only whispered it. Grandmother says no, and stuck to it for a
good time; but Mrs. Darrell offered her money, and then more and more
money. She says it couldn't matter whether she got the stuff from her
or from any one else. She could get it easily enough, she says, in any
large town. And she didn't know as she should use it, she says. It was
more likely than not she never would; but she wanted to have it by her,
so as to feel she was able to put an end to her life, if ever it grew
burdensome to her. "You'll never use it against any one else?" says
grandmother; and Mrs. Darrell says who was there she could use it
against, and what harm need she wish to anybody; she was rich enough,
and had nothing to gain from anybody's death. So at last, after a deal
of talk, grandmother gave her the stuff; and I heard her counting out
money—I think it was a hundred pounds—and then she went away in the
I remembered that night upon which Mrs. Darrell had stayed out so long
in the rain—the night that followed her stormy interview with Angus
I told Peter that he had done quite right in telling me this, and
begged him not to mention it to any one else until I gave him
permission to do so. I went back to Milly's room directly afterwards,
and waited there for Mr. Hale's coming.
While I was taking my breakfast, Mrs. Darrell came to make her usual
inquiries. I ran into the dressing-room to meet her. While she was
questioning me about the invalid, I saw her look at the table where the
medicine had always been until that morning, and I knew that she missed
After she had made her inquiries, she stood for a few moments
hesitating, and then said abruptly,
'I should like to see Mr. Hale when he comes this morning. I want to
hear what he says about his patient. He will be here almost
immediately, I suppose; so I will stay in Milly's room till he comes.'
She went into the bedroom, bent over the invalid for a few minutes,
talking in a gentle sympathetic voice, and then took her place by the
bedside. It was evident to me that she had suspected something from the
removal of the medicine, and that she intended to prevent my seeing Mr.
'You took your medicine regularly last night, I suppose, Milly?' she
inquired presently, when I had seated myself at a little table by the
window and was sipping my tea.
'I don't think you gave me quite so many doses last night, did you,
Mary?' said the invalid, in her feeble voice. 'I fancy you were more
merciful than usual.'
'It was very wrong of Miss Crofton to neglect your medicine. Mr. Hale
will be extremely angry when he hears of it.'
'I do not think Milly will be much worse for the omission,' I answered
After this we sat silently waiting for the doctor's appearance. He came
in about a quarter of an hour, and pronounced himself better pleased
with his patient than he had been the night before. There had been a
modification of the more troublesome symptoms of the fever towards
I told him of my omission to give the medicine.
'That was very wrong,' he said.
'Yet you see she had a better night, Mr. Hale. I suppose that medicine
was intended to modify those attacks of sickness from which she has
suffered so much?'
'To prevent them altogether, if possible.'
'That is very strange. It really appears to me that the medicine always
increases the tendency to sickness.'
Mr. Hale shook his head impatiently.
'You don't know what you are talking about, Miss Crofton,' he said.
'May I say a few words to you alone, if you please?'
Mrs. Darrell rose, with a hurried anxious look.
'What can you have to say to Mr. Hale alone, Miss Crofton?' she asked.
'It is about herself, perhaps,' said the doctor kindly. 'I have told
her all along that she would be knocked up by this nursing; and now I
daresay she begins to find I am right.'
'Yes,' I said, 'it is about myself I want to speak.'
Mrs. Darrell went to one of the windows, and stood with her face turned
away from us, looking out. I followed Mr. Hale into the dressing-room.
I unlocked the wardrobe, took out the medicine-bottle, and told the
doctor my suspicions of the previous night. He listened to me with
grave attention, but with an utterly incredulous look.
'A nervous fancy of yours, no doubt, Miss Crofton,' he said; 'however,
I'll take the medicine back to my surgery and analyse it.'
'I have something more to tell you, Mr. Hale.'
I repeated, word for word, what Peter had told me about Mrs. Darrell's
visit to his grandmother.
'It is a very extraordinary business,' he said; 'but I cannot imagine
that Mrs. Darrell would be capable of such a hideous crime. What motive
could she have for such an act?'
'I do not feel justified in speaking quite plainly upon that subject,
Mr. Hale; but I have reason to know that Mrs. Darrell has a very bitter
feeling about her stepdaughter.'
'I cannot think the thing you suspect possible. However, the medicine
shall be analysed; and we will take all precautions for the future. I
will send you another bottle immediately, in a sealed packet. You will
take notice that the seal is unbroken before you use the medicine.'
He showed me his crest on a seal at the end of his pencil-case, and
then departed. The medicine came a quarter of an hour later in a sealed
packet. This time I brought the bottle into the sick-room, and placed
it on the mantelpiece, where it was impossible for any one to touch it.
When Mr. Hale came for his second visit, there was a grave and anxious
look in his face. He was very well satisfied with the appearance of the
patient, however, and pronounced that there was a change for the
better—slight, of course, but quite as much as could be expected in so
short a time. He beckoned me out of the room, and I went down-stairs
with him, leaving Susan Dodd with Milly.
'I am going to speak to Mrs. Darrell, and you had better come with me,'
She was in the library. Mr. Hale went in, and I followed him. She was
sitting at the table, with writing materials scattered before her; but
she was not writing. She had a strange preoccupied air; but at the
sight of Mr. Hale she rose suddenly, and looked at him with a deadly
'Is she worse?' she asked.
'No, Mrs. Darrell; she is better,' he answered sternly. 'I find that we
have been the dupes of some secret enemy of this dear child's. There
has been an attempt at murder going on under our very eyes. Poison has
been mixed with the medicine sent by me—a slow poison. Happily for us
the poisoner has been a little too cautious for the success of the
crime. The doses administered have been small enough to leave the
chance of recovery. An accident awakened Miss Crofton's suspicions last
night, and she very wisely discontinued the medicine. I have analysed
it since she gave it me, and find that a certain portion of irritant
poison has been mixed with it.'
For some moments after he had finished speaking Mrs. Darrell remained
silent, looking at him fixedly with that awful death-like face.
'Who can have done such a thing?' she asked at last, in a
'You must be a better judge of that question than I,' answered Mr.
Hale. 'Is there any one in this house inimical to your stepdaughter?'
'No one, that I know of.'
'We have two duties before us, Mrs. Darrell: the first, to protect our
patient from the possibility of any farther attempt of this kind; the
second, to trace the hand that has done this work. I shall telegraph to
Leeds immediately for a professional nurse, to relieve Miss Crofton in
the care of the sick-room; and I shall communicate at once with the
police, in order that this house may be placed under surveillance.'
Mrs. Darrell said not a word, either in objection or assent, to this.
She seated herself by the table again, and began trifling idly with the
writing materials before her.
'You will do what is best, of course, Mr. Hale,' she said, after a long
pause; 'you are quite at liberty to act in this matter according to
your own discretion.'
'Thanks; it is a matter in which my responsibility entitles me to a
certain amount of power. I shall telegraph to Dr. Lomond, asking him to
come down to-morrow. Whatever doubt you may entertain of my judgment
will be dispelled when I am supported by his opinion.'
'Of course; but I have not expressed any doubt of your judgment.'
We left her immediately after this—left her sitting before the table,
with her restless hands turning over the papers.
The servant who went in search of her at seven o'clock that evening,
when dinner was served, found her sitting there still, with a sealed
letter lying on the table before her; but her head had fallen across
the cushioned arm of the chair—she had been dead some hours.
There was a post-mortem examination and an inquest. Mrs. Darrell had
taken poison. The jury brought in a verdict of suicide while in a state
of unsound mind. The act seemed too causeless for sanity. Her strange
absent ways had attracted the attention of the servants for some time
past, and the evidence of her own maid respecting her restlessness and
irritability for the last few months influenced the minds of coroner
The letter found lying on the table before her was addressed to Angus
Egerton. He declined to communicate its contents when questioned about
it at the inquest. Milly progressed towards recovery slowly but surely
from the hour in which I stopped the suspected medicine. The time came
when we were obliged to tell her of her stepmother's awful death; but
she never knew the attempt that had been made on her own life, or the
atmosphere of hatred in which she had lived.
We left Thornleigh for Scarborough as soon as she was well enough to be
moved, and only returned in the early spring, in time for my darling's
She has now been married nearly seven years, during which time her life
has been very bright and happy—a life of almost uncheckered sunshine.
She has carried out her idea of our friendship to the very letter; and
we have never been separated, except during her honeymoon and my own
visits home. Happily for my sense of independence, there are now plenty
of duties for me to perform at Cumber Priory, where I am governess to a
brood of pretty children, who call me auntie, and hold me scarcely
second to their mother in their warm young hearts. Angus Egerton is a
model country squire and master of the hounds; and he and his wife
enjoy an unbroken popularity among rich and poor. Peter is
under-gardener at the Priory, and no longer lives with his grandmother,
who left her cottage soon after Mrs. Darrell's suicide, and is supposed
to have gone to London.