A Terrible Temptation

A Story of To-Day


Charles Reade


THE morning-room of a large house in Portman Square, London.

A gentleman in the prime of life stood with his elbow on the broad mantel-piece, and made himself agreeable to a young lady, seated a little way off, playing at work.

To the ear he was only conversing, but his eyes dwelt on her with loving admiration all the time. Her posture was favorable to this furtive inspection, for she leaned her fair head over her work with a pretty, modest, demure air, that seemed to say, "I suspect I am being admired: I will not look to see: I might have to check it."

The gentleman's features were ordinary, except his brow--that had power in it--but he had the beauty of color; his sunburned features glowed with health, and his eye was bright. On the whole, rather good-looking when he smiled, but ugly when he frowned; for his frown was a scowl, and betrayed a remarkable power of hating.

Miss Arabella Bruce was a beauty. She had glorious masses of dark red hair, and a dazzling white neck to set it off; large, dove-like eyes, and a blooming oval face, which would have been classical if her lips had been thin and finely chiseled; but here came in her Anglo-Saxon breed, and spared society a Minerva by giving her two full and rosy lips. They made a smallish mouth at rest, but parted ever so wide when they smiled, and ravished the beholder with long, even rows of dazzling white teeth.

Her figure was tall and rather slim, but not at all commanding. There are people whose very bodies express character; and this tall, supple, graceful frame of Bella Bruce breathed womanly subservience; so did her gestures. She would take up or put down her own scissors half timidly, and look around before threading her needle, as if to see whether any soul objected. Her favorite word was "May I?" with a stress on the "May," and she used it where most girls would say "I will," or nothing, and do it.

Mr. Richard Bassett was in love with her, and also conscious that her fifteen thousand pounds would be a fine addition to his present income, which was small, though his distant expectations were great. As he had known her but one month, and she seemed rather amiable than inflammable, he had the prudence to proceed by degrees; and that is why, though his eyes gloated on her, he merely regaled her with the gossip of the day, not worth recording here. But when he had actually taken his hat to go, Bella Bruce put him a question that had been on her mind the whole time, for which reason she had reserved it to the very last moment.

"Is Sir Charles Bassett in town?" said she, mighty carelessly, but bending a little lower over her embroidery.

"Don't know," said Richard Bassett, with such a sudden brevity and asperity that Miss Bruce looked up and opened her lovely eyes. Mr. Richard Bassett replied to this mute inquiry, "We don't speak." Then, after a pause, "He has robbed me of my inheritance."

"Oh, Mr. Bassett!"

"Yes, Miss Bruce, the Bassett and Huntercombe estates were mine by right of birth. My father was the eldest son, and they were entailed on him. But Sir Charles's father persuaded my old, doting grandfather to cut off the entail, and settle the estates on him and his heirs; and so they robbed me of every acre they could. Luckily my little estate of Highmore was settled on my mother and her issue too tight for the villains to undo."

These harsh expressions, applied to his own kin, and the abruptness and heat they were uttered with, surprised and repelled his gentle listener. She shrank a little away from him. He observed it. She replied not to his words, but to her own thought:

"But, after all, it does seem hard." She added, with a little fervor, "But it wasn't poor Sir Charles's doing, after all."

"He is content to reap the benefit," said Richard Bassett, sternly.

Then, finding he was making a sorry impression, he tried to get away from the subject. I say tried, for till a man can double like a hare he will never get away from his hobby. "Excuse me," said he; "I ought never to speak about it. Let us talk of something else. You cannot enter into my feelings; it makes my blood boil. Oh, Miss Bruce! you can't conceive what a disinherited man feels--and I live at the very door: his old trees, that ought to be mine, fling their shadows over my little flower beds; the sixty chimneys of Huntercombe Hall look down on my cottage; his acres of lawn run up to my little garden, and nothing but a ha-ha between us."

"It is hard," said Miss Bruce, composedly; not that she entered into a hardship of this vulgar sort, but it was her nature to soothe and please people.

"Hard!" cried Richard Bassett, encouraged by even this faint sympathy; "it would be unendurable but for one thing--I shall have my own some day."

"I am glad of that," said the lady; "but how?"

"By outliving the wrongful heir."

Miss Bruce turned pale. She had little experience of men's passions. "Oh, Mr. Bassett!" said she--and there was something pure and holy in the look of sorrow and alarm she cast on the presumptuous speaker--"pray do not cherish such thoughts. They will do you harm. And remember life and death are not in our hands. Besides--"


"Sir Charles might--"


"Might he not--marry--and have children?" This with more hesitation and a deeper blush than appeared absolutely necessary.

"Oh, there's no fear of that. Property ill-gotten never descends. Charles is a worn-out rake. He was fast at Eton--fast at Oxford--fast in London. Why, he looks ten years older than I, and he is three years younger. He had a fit two years ago. Besides, he is not a marrying man. Bassett and Huntercombe will be mine. And oh! Miss Bruce, if ever they are mine--"

"Sir Charles Bassett!" trumpeted a servant at the door; and then waited, prudently, to know whether his young lady, whom he had caught blushing so red with one gentleman, would be at home to another.

"Wait a moment," said Miss Bruce to him. Then, discreetly ignoring what Bassett had said last, and lowering her voice almost to a whisper, she said, hurriedly: "You should not blame him for the faults of others. There--I have not been long acquainted with either, and am little entitled to inter-- But it is such a pity you are not friends. He is very good, I assure you, and very nice. Let me reconcile you two. May I?"

This well-meant petition was uttered very sweetly; and, indeed--if I may be permitted--in a way to dissolve a bear.

But this was not a bear, nor anything else that is placable; it was a man with a hobby grievance; so he replied in character:

"That is impossible so long as he keeps me out of my own." He had the grace, however, to add, half sullenly, "Excuse me; I feel I have been too vehement."

Miss Bruce, thus repelled, answered, rather coldly:

"Oh, never mind that; it was very natural.--I am at home, then," said she to the servant.

Mr. Bassett took the hint, but turned at the door, and said, with no little agitation, "I was not aware he visits you. One word--don't let his ill-gotten acres make you quite forget the disinherited one." And so he left her, with an imploring look.

She felt red with all this, so she slipped out at another door, to cool her cheeks and imprison a stray curl for Sir Charles.

He strolled into the empty room, with the easy, languid air of fashion. His features were well cut, and had some nobility; but his sickly complexion and the lines under his eyes told a tale of dissipation. He appeared ten years older than he was, and thoroughly blasé.

Yet when Miss Bruce entered the room with a smile and a little blush, he brightened up and looked handsome, and greeted her with momentary warmth.

After the usual inquiries she asked him if he had met any body.


"Here; just now."


"What, nobody at all?"

"Only my sulky cousin; I don't call him anybody," drawled Sir Charles, who was now relapsing into his normal condition of semi-apathy.

"Oh," said Miss Bruce gayly, "you must expect him to be a little cross. It is not so very nice to be disinherited, let me tell you."

"And who has disinherited the fellow?"

"I forget; but you disinherited him among you. Never mind; it can't be helped now. When did you come back to town? I didn't see you at Lady d'Arcy's ball, did I?"

"You did not, unfortunately for me; but you would if I had known you were to be there. But about Richard: he may tell you what he likes, but he was not disinherited; he was bought out. The fact is, his father was uncommonly fast. My grandfather paid his debts again and again; but at last the old gentleman found he was dealing with the Jews for his reversion. Then there was an awful row. It ended in my grandfather outbidding the Jews. He bought the reversion of his estate from his own son for a large sum of money (he had to raise it by mortgages); then they cut off the entail between them, and he entailed the mortgaged estate on his other son, and his grandson (that was me), and on my heir-at-law. Richard's father squandered his thirty thousand pounds before he died; my father husbanded the estates, got into Parliament, and they put a tail to his name."

Sir Charles delivered this version of the facts with a languid composure that contrasted deliciously with Richard's heat in telling the story his way (to be sure, Sir Charles had got Huntercombe and Bassett, and it is easier to be philosophical on the right side of the boundary hedge), and wound up with a sort of corollary: "Dick Bassett suffers by his father's vices, and I profit by mine's virtues. Where's the injustice?"

"Nowhere, and the sooner you are reconciled the better."

Sir Charles demurred. "Oh, I don't want to quarrel with the fellow: but he is a regular thorn in my side, with his little trumpery estate, all in broken patches. He shoots my pheasants in the unfairest way." Here the landed proprietor showed real irritation, but only for a moment. He concluded calmly, "The fact is, he is not quite a gentleman. Fancy his coming and whining to you about our family affairs, and then telling you a falsehood!"

"No, no; be did not mean. It was his way of looking at things. You can afford to forgive him."

"Yes, but not if he sets you against me."

"But he cannot do that. The more any one was to speak against you, the more I--of course."

This admission fired Sir Charles; he drew nearer, and, thanks to his cousin's interference, spoke the language of love more warmly and directly than he had ever done before.

The lady blushed, and defended herself feebly. Sir Charles grew warmer, and at last elicited from her a timid but tender avowal, that made him supremely happy.

When he left her this brief ecstasy was succeeded by regrets on account of the years he had wasted in follies and intrigues.

He smoked five cigars, and pondered the difference between the pure creature who now honored him with her virgin affections and beauties of a different character who had played their parts in his luxurious life.

After profound deliberation he sent for his solicitor. They lighted the inevitable cigars, and the following observations struggled feebly out along with the smoke.

"Mr. Oldfield, I'm going to be married."

"Glad to hear it, Sir Charles." (Vision of settlements.) "It is a high time you were." (Puff-puff.)

"Want your advice and assistance first."


"Must put down my pony-carriage now, you know."

"A very proper retrenchment; but you can do that without my assistance,

"There would be sure to be a row if I did. I dare say there will be as it is. At any rate, I want to do the thing like a gentleman."

"Send 'em to Tattersall's." (Puff.)

"And the girl that drives them in the park, and draws all the duchesses and countesses at her tail--am I to send her to Tattersall's?" (Puff.)

"Oh, it is her you want to put down, then?"

"Why, of course."


SIR CHARLES and Mr. Oldfield settled that lady's retiring pension, and Mr. Oldfield took the memoranda home, with instructions to prepare a draft deed for Miss Somerset's approval.

Meantime Sir Charles visited Miss Bruce every day. Her affections for him grew visibly, for being engaged gave her the courage to love.

Mr. Bassett called pretty often; but one day he met Sir Charles on the stairs, and scowled.

That scowl cost him dear, for Sir Charles thereupon represented to Bella that a man with a grievance is a bore to the very eye, and asked her to receive no more visits from his scowling cousin. The lady smiled, and said, with soft complacency, "I obey."

Sir Charles's gallantry was shocked.

"No, don't say 'obey.' It is a little favor I ventured to ask."

"It is like you to ask what you have a right to command. I shall be out to him in future, and to every one who is disagreeable to you. What! does 'obey' frighten you from my lips? To me it is the sweetest in the language. Oh, please let me 'obey' you! May I?"

Upon this, as vanity is seldom out of call, Sir Charles swelled like a turkey-cock, and loftily consented to indulge Bella Bruce's strange propensity. From that hour she was never at home to Mr. Bassett.

He began to suspect; and one day, after he had been kept out with the loud, stolid "Not at home" of practiced mendacity, he watched, and saw Sir Charles admitted.

He divined it all in a moment, and turned to wormwood. What! was he to be robbed of the lady he loved--and her fifteen thousand pounds--by the very man who had robbed him of his ancestral fields? He dwelt on the double grievance till it nearly frenzied him. But he could do nothing: it was his fate. His only hope was that Sir Charles, the arrant flirt, would desert this beauty after a time, as he had the others.

But one afternoon, in the smoking-room of his club, a gentleman said to him, "So your cousin Charles is engaged to the Yorkshire beauty, Bell Bruce?"

"He is flirting with her, I believe," said Richard.

"No, no," said the other; "they are engaged. I know it for a fact. They are to be married next month."

Mr. Richard Bassett digested this fresh pill in moody silence, while the gentlemen of the club discussed the engagement with easy levity. They soon passed to a topic of wider interest, viz., who was to succeed Sir Charles with La Somerset. Bassett began to listen attentively, and learned for the first time Sir Charles Bassett's connection with that lady, and also that she was a woman of a daring nature and furious temper. At first he was merely surprised; but soon hatred and jealousy whispered in his ear that with these materials it must be possible to wound those who had wounded him.

Mr. Marsh, a young gentleman with a receding chin, and a mustache between hay and straw, had taken great care to let them all know he was acquainted with Miss Somerset. So Richard got Marsh alone, and sounded him. Could he call upon the lady without ceremony?

"You won't get in. Her street door is jolly well guarded, I can tell you."

"I am very curious to see her in her own house."

"So are a good many fellows."

"Could you not give me an introduction?"

Marsh shook his head sapiently for a considerable time, and with all this shaking, as it appeared, out fell words of wisdom. "Don't see it. I'm awfully spooney on her myself; and, you know, when a fellow introduces another fellow, that fellow always cuts the other out." Then, descending from the words of the wise and their dark sayings to a petty but pertinent fact, he added, "Besides, I'm only let in myself about once in five times."

"She gives herself wonderful airs, it seems," said Bassett, rather bitterly.

Marsh fired up. "So would any woman that was as beautiful, and as witty and as much run after as she is. Why she is a leader of fashion. Look at all the ladies following her round the park. They used to drive on the north side of the Serpentine. She just held up her finger, and now they have cut the Serpentine, and followed her to the south drive."

"Oh, indeed!" said Bassett. "Ah then this is a great lady; a poor country squire must not venture into her august presence." He turned savagely on his heel, and Marsh went and made sickly mirth at his expense.

By this means the matter soon came to the ears of old Mr. Woodgate, the father of that club, and a genial gossip. He got hold of Bassett in the dinner-room and examined him. "So you want an introduction to La Somerset, and Marsh refuses--Marsh, hitherto celebrated for his weak head rather than his hard heart?"

Richard Bassett nodded rather sullenly. He had not bargained for this rapid publicity.

The venerable chief resumed: "We all consider Marsh's conduct unclubable and a thing to be combined against. Wanted--an Anti-dog-in-the-manger League. I'll introduce you to the Somerset."

"What! do you visit her?" asked Bassett, in some astonishment.

The old gentleman held up his hands in droll disclaimer, and chuckled merrily "No, no; I enjoy from the shore the disasters of my youthful friends--that sacred pleasure is left me. Do you see that elegant creature with the little auburn beard and mustache, waiting sweetly for his dinner. He launched the Somerset."

"Launched her?"

"Yes; but for him she might have wasted her time breaking hearts and slapping faces in some country village. He it was set her devastating society; and with his aid she shall devastate you.--Vandeleur, will you join Bassett and me?"

Mr. Vandeleur, with ready grace, said he should be delighted, and they dined together accordingly.

Mr. Vandeleur, six feet high, lank, but graceful as a panther, and the pink of politeness, was, beneath his varnish, one of the wildest young men in London--gambler, horse-racer, libertine, what not?--but in society charming, and his manners singularly elegant and winning. He never obtruded his vices in good company; in fact, you might dine with him all your life and not detect him. The young serpent was torpid in wine; but he came out, a bit at a time, in the sunshine of Cigar.

After a brisk conversation on current topics, the venerable chief told him plainly they were both curious to know the history of Miss Somerset, and he must tell it them.

"Oh, with pleasure," said the obliging youth. "Let us go into the smoking-room."


"Let--me--see. I picked her up by the sea-side. She promised well at first. We put her on my chestnut mare, and she showed lots of courage, so she soon learned to ride; but she kicked, even down there."


"Kicked all round; I mean showed temper. And when she got to London, and had ridden a few times in the park, and swallowed flattery, there was no holding her. I stood her cheek for a good while, but at last I told the servants they must not turn her out, but they could keep her out. They sided with me for once. She had ridden over them, as well. The first time she went out they bolted the doors, and handed her boxes up the area steps."

"How did she take that?"

"Easier than we expected. She said, 'Lucky for you beggars that I'm a lady, or I'd break every d--d window in the house.'"

This caused a laugh. It subsided. The historian resumed.

"Next day she cooled, and wrote a letter."

"To you?"

"No, to my groom. Would you like to see it? It is a curiosity."

He sent one of the club waiters for his servant, and his servant for his desk, and produced the letter.

"There!" said Vandeleur. "She looks like a queen, and steps like an empress, and this is how she writes:


"DEAR JORGE-- i have got the sak, an' praps your turn nex. dear jorge he alwaies promise me the grey oss, which now an oss is life an death to me. If you was to ast him to lend me the grey he wouldn't refuse you,

"Yours respecfully,



When the letter and the handwriting, which, unfortunately, I cannot reproduce, had been duly studied and approved, Vandeleur continued--

"Now, you know, she had her good points, after all. If any creature was ill, she'd sit up all night and nurse them, and she used to go to church on Sundays, and come back with the sting out of her; only then she would preach to a fellow, and bore him. She is awfully fond of preaching. Her dream is to jump on a first-rate hunter, and ride across country, and preach to the villages. So, when George came grinning to me with the letter, I told him to buy a new side-saddle for the gray, and take her the lot, with my compliments. I had noticed a slight spavin in his near foreleg. She rode him that very day in the park, all alone, and made such a sensation that next day my gray was standing in Lord Hailey's stables. But she rode Hailey, like my gray, with a long spur, and he couldn't stand it. None of 'em could except Sir Charles Bassett, and he doesn't play fair--never goes near her."

"And that gives him an unfair advantage over his fascinating predecessors?" inquired the senior, slyly.

"Of course it does," said Vandeleur, stoutly. "You ask a girl to dine at Richmond once a month, and keep out of her way all the rest of the time, and give her lots of money--she will never quarrel with you."

"Profit by this information, young man," said old Woodgate, severely; "it comes too late for me. In my day there existed no sure method of pleasing the fair. But now that is invented, along with everything else. Richmond and--absence, equivalent to 'Richmond and victory!' Now, Bassett, we have heard the truth from the fountain-head, and it is rather serious. She swears, she kicks, she preaches. Do you still desire an introduction? As for me, my manly spirit is beginning to quake at Vandeleur's revelations, and some lines of Scott recur to my Gothic memory--

"'From the chafed tiger rend his prey,
Bar the fell dragon's blighting way,
But shun that lovely snare."'

Bassett replied, gravely, that he had no such motive as Mr. Woodgate gave him credit for, but still desired the introduction.

"With pleasure," said Vandeleur; "but it will be no use to you. She hates me like poison; says I have no heart. That is what all ill-tempered women say."

Notwithstanding his misgivings the obliging youth called for writing materials, and produced the following epistle--


"DEAR MISS SOMERSET--Mr. Richard Bassett, a cousin of Sir Charles, wishes very much to be introduced to you, and has begged me to assist in an object so laudable. I should hardly venture to present myself, and, therefore, shall feel surprised as well as flattered if you will receive Mr. Bassett on my introduction, and my assurance that he is a respectable country gentleman, and bears no resemblance in character to

"Yours faithfully,



Next day Bassett called at Miss Somerset's house in May Fair, and delivered his introduction.

He was admitted after a short delay and entered the lady's boudoir. It was Luxury's nest. The walls were rose colored satin, padded and puckered; the voluminous curtains were pale satin, with floods and billows of real lace; the chairs embroidered, the tables all buhl and ormolu, and the sofas felt like little seas. The lady herself, in a delightful peignoir, sat nestled cozily in a sort of ottoman with arms. Her finely formed hand, clogged with brilliants, was just conveying brandy and soda-water to a very handsome mouth when Richard Bassett entered.

She raised herself superbly, but without leaving her seat, and just looked at a chair in a way that seemed to say, "I permit you to sit down;" and that done, she carried the glass to her lips with the same admirable firmness of hand she showed in driving. Her lofty manner, coupled with her beautiful but rather haughty features, smacked of imperial origin. Yet she was the writer to "jorge," and four years ago a shrimp-girl, running into the sea with legs as brown as a berry.

So swiftly does merit rise in this world which, nevertheless, some morose folk pretend is a wicked one.

I ought to explain, however, that this haughty reception was partly caused by a breach of propriety. Vandeleur ought first to have written to her and asked permission to present Richard Bassett. He had no business to send the man and the introduction together. This law a Parliament of Sirens had passed, and the slightest breach of it was a bitter offense Equilibrium governs the world. These ladies were bound to be overstrict in something or other, being just a little lax in certain things where other ladies are strict.

Now Bassett had pondered well what he should say, but he was disconcerted by her superb presence and demeanor and her large gray eyes, that rested steadily upon his face.

However, he began to murmur mellifluously. Said he had often seen her in public, and admired her, and desired to make her acquaintance, etc., etc.

"Then why did you not ask Sir Charles to bring you here?" said Miss Somerset, abruptly, and searching him with her eyes, that were not to say bold, but singularly brave, and examiners pointblank.

"I am not on good terms with Sir Charles. He holds the estates that ought to be mine; and now he has robbed me of my love. He is the last man in the world I would ask a favor of."

"You came here to abuse him behind his back, eh?" asked the lady with undisguised contempt.

Bassett winced, but kept his temper. "No, Miss Somerset; but you seem to think I ought to have come to you through Sir Charles. I would not enter your house if I did not feel sure I shall not meet him here."

Miss Somerset looked rather puzzled. "Sir Charles does not come here every day, but he comes now and then, and he is always welcome."

"You surprise me."

"Thank you. Now some of my gentlemen friends think it is a wonder he does not come every minute."

"You mistake me. What surprises me is that you are such good friends under the circumstances."

"Circumstances! what circumstances?"

"Oh, you know. You are in his confidence, I presume?"--this rather satirically. So the lady answered, defiantly:

"Yes, I am; he knows I can hold my tongue, so he tells me things he tells nobody else."

"Then, if you are in his confidence, you know he is about to be married."

"Married! Sir Charles married!"

"In three weeks."

"It's a lie! You get out of my house this moment!"

Mr. Bassett colored at this insult. He rose from his seat with some little dignity, made her a low bow, and retired. But her blood was up: she made a wonderful rush, sweeping down a chair with her dress as she went, and caught him at the door, clutched him by the shoulder and half dragged him back, and made him sit down again, while she stood opposite him, with the knuckles of one hand resting on the table.

"Now," said she, panting, "you look me in the face and say that again."

"Excuse me; you punish me too severely for telling the truth."

"Well, I beg your pardon--there. Now tell me--this instant. Can't you speak, man?" And her knuckles drummed the table.

"He is to be married in three weeks."

"Oh! Who to?"

"A young lady I love."

"Her name?"

"Miss Arabella Bruce."

"Where does she live?"

"Portman Square."

"I'll stop that marriage."

"How?" asked Richard, eagerly.

"I don't know; that I'll think over. But he shall not marry her--never!"

Bassett sat and looked up with almost as much awe as complacency at the fury he had evoked; for this woman was really at times a poetic impersonation of that fiery passion she was so apt to indulge. She stood before him, her cheek pale, her eyes glittering and roving savagely, and her nostrils literally expanding, while her tall body quivered with wrath, and her clinched knuckles pattered on the table.

"He shall not marry her. I'll kill him first!"


RICHARD BASSETT eagerly offered his services to break off the obnoxious match. But Miss Somerset was beginning to be mortified at having shown so much passion before a stranger.

"What have you to do with it?" said she, sharply.

"Everything. I love Miss Bruce."

"Oh, yes; I forgot that. Anything else? There is, now. I see it in your eye. What is it?"

"Sir Charles's estates are mine by right, and they will return to my line if he does not marry and have issue."

"Oh, I see. That is so like a man. It's always love, and something more important, with you. Well, give me your address. I'll write if I want you."

"Highly flattered," said Bassett, ironically-wrote his address and left her.

Miss Somerset then sat down and wrote:


"DEAR SIR CHARLES--please call here, I want to speak to you.

yours respecfuly,



Sir Charles obeyed this missive, and the lady received him with a gracious and smiling manner, all put on and catlike. She talked with him of indifferent things for more than an hour, still watching to see if he would tell her of his own accord.

When she was quite sure he would not, she said,

"Do you know there's a ridiculous report about that you are going to be married?"


"They even tell her name--Miss Bruce. Do you know the girl?"


"Is she pretty?"



"As an angel."

"And are you going to marry her?"


"Then you are a villain."

"The deuce I am!"

"You are, to abandon a woman who has sacrificed all for you."

Sir Charles looked puzzled, and then smiled; but was too polite to give his thoughts vent. Nor was it necessary; Miss Somerset, whose brave eyes never left the person she was speaking to, fired up at the smile alone, and she burst into a torrent of remonstrance, not to say vituperation. Sir Charles endeavored once or twice to stop it, but it was not to be stopped; so at last he quietly took up his hat, to go.

He was arrested at the door by a rustle and a fall. He turned round, and there was Miss Somerset lying on her back, grinding her white teeth and clutching the air.

He ran to the bell and rang it violently, then knelt down and did his best to keep her from hurting herself; but, as generally happens in these cases, his interference made her more violent. He had hard work to keep her from battering her head against the floor, and her arms worked like windmills.

Hearing the bell tugged so violently, a pretty page ran headlong into the room--saw--and; without an instant's diminution of speed, described a curve, and ran headlong out, screaming "Polly! Polly!"

The next moment the housekeeper, an elderly woman, trotted in at the door, saw her mistress's condition, and stood stock-still, calling, "Polly," but with the most perfect tranquillity the mind can conceive.

In ran a strapping house-maid, with black eyes and brown arms, went down on her knees, and said, firmly though respectfully, "Give her me, sir."

She got behind her struggling mistress, pulled her up into her own lap, and pinned her by the wrists with a vigorous grasp.

The lady struggled, and ground her teeth audibly, and flung her arms abroad. The maid applied all her rustic strength and harder muscle to hold her within bounds. The four arms went to and fro in a magnificent struggle, and neither could the maid hold the mistress still, nor the mistress shake off the maid's grasp, nor strike anything to hurt herself.

Sir Charles, thrust out of the play looked on with pity and anxiety, and the little page at the door--combining art and nature--stuck stock-still in a military attitude, and blubbered aloud.

As for the housekeeper, she remained in the middle of the room with folded arms, and looked down on the struggle with a singular expression of countenance. There was no agitation whatever, but a sort of thoughtful examination, half cynical, half admiring.

However, as soon as the boy's sobs reached her ear she wakened up, and said, tenderly, "What is the child crying for? Run and get a basin of water, and fling it all over her; that will bring her to in a minute."

The page departed swiftly on this benevolent errand.

Then the lady gave a deep sigh, and ceased to struggle.

Next she stared in all their faces, and seemed to return to consciousness.

Next she spoke, but very feebly. "Help me up," she sighed.

Sir Charles and Polly raised her, and now there was a marvelous change. The vigorous vixen was utterly weak, and limp as a wet towel--a woman of jelly. As such they handled her, and deposited her gingerly on the sofa.

Now the page ran in hastily with the water. Up jumps the poor lax sufferer, with flashing eyes: "You dare come near me with it!" Then to the female servants: "Call yourselves women, and water my lilac silk, not two hours old?" Then to the housekeeper: "You old monster, you wanted it for your Polly. Get out of my sight, the lot!"

Then, suddenly remembering how feeble she was, she sank instantly down, and turned piteously and languidly to Sir Charles. "They eat my bread, and rob me, and hate me," said she, faintly. "I have but one friend on earth." She leaned tenderly toward Sir Charles as that friend; but before she quite reached him she started back, her eyes filled with sudden horror. "And he forsakes me!" she cried; and so turned away from him despairingly, and began to cry bitterly, with head averted over the sofa, and one hand hanging by her side for Sir Charles to take and comfort her. He tried to take it. It resisted; and, under cover of that little disturbance, the other hand dexterously whipped two pins out of her hair. The long brown tresses--all her own--fell over her eyes and down to her waist, and the picture of distressed beauty was complete.

Even so did the women of antiquity conquer male pity--"solutis crinibus."

The females interchanged a meaning glance, and retired; then the boy followed them with his basin, sore perplexed, but learning life in this admirable school.

Sir Charles then, with the utmost kindness, endeavored to reconcile the weeping and disheveled fair to that separation which circumstances rendered necessary. But she was inconsolable, and he left the house, perplexed and grieved; not but what it gratified his vanity a little to find himself beloved all in a moment, and the Somerset unvixened. He could not help thinking how wide must be the circle of his charms, which had won the affections of two beautiful women so opposite in character as Bella Bruce and La Somerset.

The passion of this latter seemed to grow. She wrote to him every day, and begged him to call on her.

She called on him--she who had never called on a man before.

She raged with jealousy; she melted with grief. She played on him with all a woman's artillery; and at last actually wrung from him what she called a reprieve.

Richard Bassett called on her, but she would not receive him; so then he wrote to her, urging co-operation, and she replied, frankly, that she took no interest in his affairs; but that she was devoted to Sir Charles, and should keep him for herself. Vanity tempted her to add that he (Sir Charles) was with her every day, and the wedding postponed.

This last seemed too good to be true, so Richard Bassett set his servant to talk to the servants in Portman Square. He learned that the wedding was now to be on the 15th of June, instead of the 31st of May.

Convinced that this postponement was only a blind, and that the marriage would never be, he breathed more freely at the news.

But the fact is, although Sir Charles had yielded so far to dread of scandal, he was ashamed of himself, and his shame became remorse when he detected a furtive tear in the dove-like eyes of her he really loved and esteemed.

He went and told his trouble to Mr. Oldfield. "I am afraid she will do something desperate," he said.

Mr. Oldfield heard him out, and then asked him had he told Miss Somerset what he was going to settle on her.

"Not I. She is not in a condition to be influenced by that, at present."

"Let me try her. The draft is ready. I'll call on her to-morrow." He did call, and was told she did not know him.

"You tell her I am a lawyer, and it is very much to her interest to see me," said Mr. Oldfield to the page.

He was admitted, but not to a tête-a-tête. Polly was kept in the room. The Somerset had peeped, and Oldfield was an old fellow, with white hair; if he had been a young fellow, with black hair, she might have thought that precaution less necessary.

"First, madam," said Oldfield, "I must beg you to accept my apologies for not coming sooner. Press of business, etc."

"Why have you come at all? That is the question," inquired the lady, bluntly.

"I bring the draft of a deed for your approval. Shall I read it to you?"

"Yes; if it is not very long." He began to read it. The lady interrupted him characteristically.

"It's a beastly rigmarole. What does it mean--in three words?"

"Sir Charles Bassett secures to Rhoda Somerset four hundred pounds a year, while single; this is reduced to two hundred if you marry. The deed further assigns to you, without reserve, the beneficial lease of this house, and all the furniture and effects, plate, linen, wine, etc."

"I see--a bribe."

"Nothing of the kind, madam. When Sir Charles instructed me to prepare this deed he expected no opposition on your part to his marriage; but he thought it due to him and to yourself to mark his esteem for you, and his recollection of the pleasant hours he has spent in your company."

Miss Somerset's eyes searched the lawyer's face. He stood the battery unflinchingly. She altered her tone, and asked, politely and almost respectfully, whether she might see that paper.

Mr. Oldfield gave it her. She took it, and ran her eye over it; in doing which, she raised it so that she could think behind it unobserved. She handed it back at last, with the remark that Sir Charles was a gentleman and had done the right thing.

"He has; and you will do the right thing too, will you not?"

"I don't know. I am just beginning to fall in love with him myself."

"Jealousy, madam, not love," said the old lawyer. "Come, now! I see you are a young lady of rare good sense; look the thing in the face: Sir Charles is a landed gentleman; he must marry, and, have heirs. He is over thirty, and his time has come. He has shown himself your friend; why not be his? He has given you the means to marry a gentleman of moderate income, or to marry beneath you, if you prefer it--"

"And most of us do--"

"Then why not make his path smooth? Why distress him with your tears and remonstrances?"

He continued in this strain for some time, appealing to her good sense and her better feelings.

When he had done she said, very quietly, "How about the ponies and my brown mare? Are they down in the deed?"

"I think not; but if you will do your part handsomely I'll guarantee you shall have them."

"You are a good soul." Then, after a pause, "Now just you tell me exactly what you want me to do for all this."

Oldfield was pleased with this question. He said, "I wish you to abstain from writing to Sir Charles, and him to visit you only once more before his marriage, just to shake hands and part, with mutual friendship and good wishes."

"You are right," said she, softly; "best for us both, and only fair to the girl." Then, with sudden and eager curiosity, "Is she very pretty?"

"I don't know."

"What, hasn't he told you?"

"He says she is lovely, and every way adorable; but then he is in love. The chances are she is not half so handsome as yourself."

"And yet he is in love with her?"

"Over head and ears."

"I don't believe it. If he was really in love with one woman he couldn't be just to another. I couldn't. He'll be coming back to me in a few months."

"God forbid!"

"Thank you, old gentleman."

Mr. Oldfield began to stammer excuses. She interrupted him: "Oh, bother all that; I like you none the worse for speaking your mind." Then, after a pause, "Now excuse me; but suppose Sir Charles should change his mind, and never sign this paper?"

"I pledge my professional credit."

"That is enough, sir; I see I can trust you. Well, then, I consent to break off with Sir Charles, and only see him once more--as a friend. Poor Sir Charles! I hope he will be happy" (she squeezed out a tear for him)--"happier than I am. And when he does come he can sign the deed, you know."

Mr. Oldfield left her, and joined Sir Charles at Long's, as had been previously agreed.

"It is all right, Sir Charles; she is a sensible girl, and will give you no further trouble."

"How did you get over the hysterics?"

"We dispensed with them. She saw at once it was to be business, not sentiment. You are to pay her one more visit, to sign, and part friends. If you please, I'll make that appointment with both parties, as soon as the deed is engrossed. Oh, by-the-by, she did shed a tear or two, but she dried them to ask me for the ponies and the brown mare."

Sir Charles's vanity was mortified. But he laughed it off, and said she should have them, of course.

So now his mind was at ease, his conscience was at rest, and he could give his whole time where he had given his heart.

Richard Bassett learned, through his servant, that the wedding-dresses were ordered. He called on Miss Somerset. She was out.

Polly opened the door and gave him a look of admiration--due to his fresh color--that encouraged him to try and enlist her in his service.

He questioned her, and she told him in a general way how matters were going. "But," said she, "why not come and talk to her yourself? Ten to one but she tells you. She is pretty outspoken."

"My pretty dear," said Richard, "she never will receive me."

"Oh, but I'll make her!" said Polly.

And she did exert her influence as follows:

"Lookee here, the cousin's a-coming to-morrow and I've been and promised he should see you."

"What did you do that for?"

"Why, he's a well-looking chap, and a beautiful color, fresh from the country, like me. And he's a gentleman, and got an estate belike; and why not put yourn to hisn, and so marry him and be a lady? You might have me about ye all the same, till my turn comes."

"No, no," said Rhoda; "that's not the man for me. If ever I marry, it must be one of my own sort, or else a fool, like Marsh, that I can make a slave of."

"Well, any way, you must see him, not to make a fool of me, for I did promise him; which, now I think on't, 'twas very good of me, for I could find in my heart to ask him down into the kitchen, instead of bringing him upstairs to you."

All this ended, somehow, in Mr. Bassett's being admitted.

To his anxious inquiry how matters stood, she replied coolly that Sir Charles and herself were parted by mutual consent.

"What! after all your protestations?" said Bassett, bitterly.

But Miss Somerset was not in an irascible humor just then. She shrugged her shoulders, and said:

"Yes, I remember I put myself in a passion, and said some ridiculous things. But one can't be always a fool. I have come to my senses. This sort of thing always does end, you know. Most of them part enemies, but he and I part friends and well-wishers."

"And you throw me over as if I was nobody," said Richard, white with anger.

"Why, what are you to me?" said the Somerset. "Oh, I see. You thought to make a cat's-paw of me. Well, you won't, then."

"In other words, you have been bought off."

"No, I have not. I am not to be bought by anybody--and I am not to be insulted by you, you ruffian! How dare you come here and affront a lady in her own house--a lady whose shoestrings your betters are ready to tie, you brute? If you want to be a landed proprietor, go and marry some ugly old hag that's got it, and no eyesight left to see you're no gentleman. Sir Charles's land you'll never have; a better man has got it, and means to keep it for him and his. Here, Polly! Polly! Polly! take this man down to the kitchen, and teach him manners if you can: he is not fit for my drawing-room, by a long chalk."

Polly arrived in time to see the flashing eyes, the swelling veins, and to hear the fair orator's peroration.

"What, you are in your tantrums again!" said she. "Come along, sir. Needs must when the devil drives. You'll break a blood-vessel some day, my lady, like your father afore ye."

And with this homely suggestion, which always sobered Miss Somerset, and, indeed, frightened her out of her wits, she withdrew the offender. She did not take him into the kitchen, but into the dining-room, and there he had a long talk with her, and gave her a sovereign.

She promised to inform him if anything important should occur.

He went away, pondering and scowling deeply.


SIR CHARLES BASSETT was now living in Elysium. Never was rake more thoroughly transformed. Every day he sat for hours at the feet of Bella Bruce, admiring her soft, feminine ways and virgin modesty even more than her beauty. And her visible blush whenever he appeared suddenly, and the soft commotion and yielding in her lovely frame whenever he drew near, betrayed his magnetic influence, and told all but the blind she adored him.

She would decline all invitations to dine with him and her father--a strong-minded old admiral, whose authority was unbounded, only, to Bella's regret, very rarely exerted. Nothing would have pleased her more than to be forbidden this and commanded that; but no! the admiral was a lion with an enormous paw, only he could not be got to put it into every pie.

In this charming society the hours glided, and the wedding-day drew close. So deeply and sincerely was Sir Charles in love that when Mr. Oldfield's letter came, appointing the day and hour to sign Miss Somerset's deed, he was unwilling to go, and wrote back to ask if the deed could not be sent to his house.

Mr. Oldfield replied that the parties to the deed and the witnesses must meet, and it would be unadvisable, for several reasons, to irritate the lady's susceptibility previous to signature; the appointment having been made at her house, it had better remain so.

That day soon came.

Sir Charles, being due in Mayfair at 2 P.M., compensated himself for the less agreeable business to come by going earlier than usual to Portman Square. By this means he caught Miss Bruce and two other young ladies inspecting bridal dresses. Bella blushed and looked ashamed, and, to the surprise of her friends, sent the dresses away, and set herself to talk rationally with Sir Charles--as rationally as lovers can.

The ladies took the cue, and retired in disgust.

Sir Charles apologized.

"This is too bad of me. I come at an unheard-of hour, and frighten away your fair friends; but the fact is, I have an appointment at two, and I don't know how long they will keep me, so I thought I would make sure of two happy hours at the least."

And delightful hours they were. Bella Bruce, excited by this little surprise, leaned softly on his shoulder, and prattled her maiden love like some warbling fountain.

Sir Charles, transfigured by love, answered her in kind--three months ago he could not--and they compared pretty little plans of wedded life, and had small differences, and ended by agreeing.

Complete and prompt accord upon two points: first, they would not have a single quarrel, like other people; their love should never lose its delicate bloom; second, they would grow old together, and die the same day--the same minute if possible; if not, they must be content with the same day, but, on that, inexorable.

But soon after this came a skirmish. Each wanted to obey t'other.

Sir Charles argued that Bella was better than he, and therefore more fit to conduct the pair.

Bella, who thought him divinely good, pounced on this reason furiously. He defended it. He admitted, with exemplary candor, that he was good now--"awfully good." But he assured her that he had been anything but good until he knew her; now she had been always good; therefore, he argued, as his goodness came originally from her, for her to obey him would be a little too much like the moon commanding the sun.

"That is too ingenious for me, Charles," said Bella. "And, for shame! Nobody was ever so good as you are. I look up to you and-- Now I could stop your mouth in a minute. I have only to remind you that I shall swear at the altar to obey you, and you will not swear to obey me. But I will not crush you under the Prayer-book--no, dearest; but, indeed, to obey is a want of my nature, and I marry you to supply that want: and that's a story, for I marry you because I love and honor and worship and adore you to distraction, my own--own--own!" With this she flung herself passionately, yet modestly on his shoulder, and, being there, murmured, coaxingly, "You will let me obey you, Charles?"

Thereupon Sir Charles felt highly gelatinous, and lost, for the moment, all power of resistance or argument.

"Ah, you will; and then you will remind me of my dear mother. She knew how to command; but as for poor dear papa, he is very disappointing. In selecting an admiral for my parent, I made sure of being ordered about. Instead of that--now I'll show you--there he is in the next room, inventing a new system of signals, poor dear--"

She threw the folding-doors open.

"Papa dear, shall I ask Charles to dinner to-day?"

"As you please, my dear."

"Do you think I had better walk or ride this afternoon?"

"Whichever you prefer."

"There," said Bella, "I told you so. That is always the way. Papa dear, you used always to be firing guns at sea. Do, please, fire one in this house--just one--before I leave it, and make the very windows rattle."

"I beg your pardon, Bella; I never wasted powder at sea. If the convoy sailed well and steered right I never barked at them. You are a modest, sensible girl, and have always steered a good course. Why should I hoist a petticoat and play the small tyrant? Wait till I see you going to do something wrong or silly."

"Ah! then you would fire a gun, papa?"

"Ay, a broadside."

"Well, that is something," said Bella, as she closed the door softly.

"No, no; it amounts to just nothing," said Sir Charles; "for you never will do anything wrong or silly. I'll accommodate you. I have thought of a way. I shall give you some blank cards; you shall write on them, 'I think I should like to do so and so.' You shall be careless, and leave them about; I'll find them, and bluster, and say, 'I command you to do so and so, Bella Bassett'--the very thing on the card, you know."

Bella colored to the brow with pleasure and modesty. After a pause she said: "How sweet! The worst of it is, I should get my own way. Now what I want is to submit my will to yours. A gentle tyrant--that is what you must be to Bella Bassett. Oh, you sweet, sweet, for calling me that!"

These projects were interrupted by a servant announcing luncheon. This made Sir Charles look hastily at his watch, and he found it was past two o'clock.

"How time flies in this house!" said he. "I must go, dearest; I am behind my appointment already. What do you do this afternoon?"

"Whatever you please, my own."

"I could get away by four."

"Then I will stay at home for you."

He left her reluctantly, and she followed him to the head of the stairs, and hung over the balusters as if she would like to fly after him.

He turned at the street-door, saw that radiant and gentle face beaming after him, and they kissed hands to each other by one impulse, as if they were parting for ever so long.

He had gone scarcely half an hour when a letter, addressed to her, was left at the door by a private messenger.

"Any answer?" inquired the servant.


The letter was sent up, and delivered to her on a silver salver.

She opened it; it was a thing new to her in her young life--an anonymous letter.


"MISS BRUCE--I am almost a stranger to you, but I know your character from others, and cannot bear to see you abused. You are said to be about to marry Sir Charles Bassett. I think you can hardly be aware that he is connected with a lady of doubtful repute, called Somerset, and neither your beauty nor your virtue has prevailed to detach him from that connection.

"If, on engaging himself to you, he had abandoned her, I should not have said a word. But the truth is, he visits her constantly, and I blush to say that when he leaves you this day it will be to spend the afternoon at her house.

"I inclose you her address, and you can learn in ten minutes whether I am a slanderer or, what I wish to be,



SIR CHARLES was behind his time in Mayfair; but the lawyer and his clerk had not arrived, and Miss Somerset was not visible.

She appeared, however, at last, in a superb silk dress, the broad luster of which would have been beautiful, only the effect was broken and frittered away by six rows of gimp and fringe. But why blame her? This is a blunder in art as universal as it is amazing, when one considers the amount of apparent thought her sex devotes to dress. They might just as well score a fair plot of velvet turf with rows of box, or tattoo a blooming and downy cheek.

She held out her hand, like a man, and talked to Sir Charles on indifferent topics, till Mr. Oldfield arrived. She then retired into the background, and left the gentlemen to discuss the deed. When appealed to, she evaded direct replies, and put on languid and imperial indifference. When she signed, it was with the air of some princess bestowing a favor upon solicitation.

But the business concluded, she thawed all in a moment, and invited the gentlemen to luncheon with charming cordiality. Indeed, her genuine bonhomie after her affected indifference was rather comic. Everybody was content. Champagne flowed. The lady, with her good mother-wit, kept conversation going till the lawyer was nearly missing his next appointment. He hurried away; and Sir Charles only lingered, out of good-breeding, to bid Miss Somerset good-by. In the course of leave-taking he said he was sorry he left her with people about her of whom he had a bad opinion. "Those women have no more feeling for you than stones. When you lay in convulsions, your housekeeper looked on as philosophically as if you had been two kittens at play--you and Polly."

"I saw her."

"Indeed! You appeared hardly in a condition to see anything."

"I did, though, and heard the old wretch tell the young monkey to water my lilac dress. That was to get it for her Polly. She knew I'd never wear it afterward."

"Then why don't you turn her off?"

"Who'd take such a useless old hag, if I turned her off?"

"You carry a charity a long way."

"I carry everything. What's the use doing things by halves, good or bad?"

"Well, but that Polly! She is young enough to get her living elsewhere; and she is extremely disrespectful to you."

"That she is. If I wasn't a lady, I'd have given her a good hiding this very day for her cheek!"

"Then why not turn her off this very day for her cheek?"

"Well, I'll tell you, since you and I are parted forever. No, I don't like."

"Oh, come! No secrets between friends."

"Well, then, the old hag is--my mother."


"And the young jade--is my sister."

"Good Heavens!"

"And the page--is my little brother."

"Ha, ha, ha!"

"What, you are not angry?"

"Angry? no. Ha, ha, ha!"

"See what a hornets' nest you have escaped from. My dear friend, those two women rob me through thick and thin. They steal my handkerchiefs, and my gloves, and my very linen. They drink my wine like fishes. They'd take the hair off my head, if it wasn't fast by the roots--for a wonder."

"Why not give them a ten-pound note and send them home?"

"They'd pocket the note, and blacken me in our village. That was why I had them up here. First time I went home, after running about with that little scamp, Vandeleur--do you know him?"

"I have not the honor."

"Then your luck beats mine. One thing, he is going to the dogs as fast as he can. Some day he'll come begging to me for a fiver. You mark my words now."

"Well, but you were saying--"

"Yes, I went off about Van. Polly says I've a mind like running water. Well, then, when I went home the first time--after Van, mother and Polly raised a virtuous howl. 'All right,' said I--for, of course, I know how much virtue there is under their skins. Virtue of the lower orders! Tell that to gentlefolks that don't know them. I do. I've been one of 'em--'I know all about that,' says I. 'You want to share the plunder, that is the sense of your virtuous cry.' So I had 'em up here; and then there was no more virtuous howling, but a deal of virtuous thieving, and modest drinking, and pure-minded selling of my street-door to the highest male bidder. And they will corrupt the boy; and if they do, I'll cuts their black hearts out with my riding-whip. But I suppose I must keep them on; they are my own flesh and blood; and if I was to be ill and dying, they'd do all they knew to keep me alive--for their own sakes. I'm their milch cow, these country innocents."

Sir Charles groaned aloud, and said, "My poor girl, you deserve a better fate than this. Marry some honest fellow, and cut the whole thing."

"I'll see about it. You try it first, and let us see how you like it."

And so they parted gayly.

In the hall, Polly intercepted him, all smiles. He looked at her, smiled in his sleeve, and gave her a handsome present. "If you please, sir," said she, "an old gentleman called for you."


"About an hour ago. Leastways, he asked if Sir Charles Bassett was there. I said yes, but you wouldn't see no one."

"Who could it be? Why, surely you never told anybody I was to be here to-day?"

"La, no, sir! how could I?" said Polly, with a face of brass.

Sir Charles thought this very odd, and felt a little uneasy about it. All to Portman Square he puzzled over it; and at last he was driven to the conclusion that Miss Somerset had been weak enough to tell some person, male or female, of the coming interview, and so somebody had called there--doubtless to ask him a favor.

At five o'clock he reached Portman Square, and was about to enter, as a matter of course; but the footman stopped him. "I beg pardon, Sir Charles," said the man, looking pale and agitated; "but I have strict orders. My young lady is very ill."

"Ill! Let me go to her this instant."

"I daren't, Sir Charles, I daren't. I know you are a gentleman; pray don't lose me my place. You would never get to see her. We none of us know the rights, but there's something up. Sorry to say it, Sir Charles, but we have strict orders not to admit you. Haven't you the admiral's letter, sir?"

"No; what letter?"

"He has been after you, sir; and when he came back he sent Roger off to your house with a letter."

A cold chill began to run down Sir Charles Bassett. He hailed a passing hansom, and drove to his own house to get the admiral's letter; and as he went he asked himself, with chill misgivings, what on earth had happened.

What had happened shall be told the reader precisely but briefly. .

In the first place, Bella had opened the anonymous letter and read its contents, to which the reader is referred.

There are people who pretend to despise anonymous letters. Pure delusion! they know they ought to, and so fancy they do; but they don't. The absence of a signature gives weight, if the letter is ably written and seems true.

As for poor Bella Bruce, a dove's bosom is no more fit to rebuff a poisoned arrow than she was to combat that foulest and direst of all a miscreant's weapons, an anonymous letter. She, in her goodness and innocence, never dreamed that any person she did not know could possibly tell a lie to wound her. The letter fell on her like a cruel revelation from heaven.

The blow was so savage that, at first, it stunned her.

She sat pale and stupefied; but beneath the stupor were the rising throbs of coming agonies.

After that horrible stupor her anguish grew and grew, till it found vent in a miserable cry, rising, and rising, and rising, in agony.

"Mamma! mamma! mamma!"

Yes; her mother had been dead these three years, and her father sat in the next room; yet, in her anguish, she cried to her mother--a cry the which, if your mother had heard, she would have expected Bella's to come to her even from the grave.

Admiral Bruce heard this fearful cry--the living calling on the dead--and burst through the folding-doors in a moment, white as a ghost.

He found his daughter writhing on the sofa, ghastly, and grinding in her hand the cursed paper that had poisoned her young life.

"My child! my child!"

"Oh, papa! see! see!" And she tried to open the letter for him, but her hands trembled so she could not.

He kneeled down by her side, the stout old warrior, and read the letter, while she clung to him, moaning now, and quivering all over from head to foot.

"Why, there's no signature! The writer is a coward and, perhaps, a liar. Stop! he offers a test. I'll put him to it this minute."

He laid the moaning girl on the sofa, ordered his servants to admit nobody into the house, and drove at once to Mayfair.

He called at Miss Somerset's house, saw Polly, and questioned her.

He drove home again, and came into the drawing-room looking as he had been seen to look when fighting his ship; but his daughter had never seen him so. "My girl," said he, solemnly, "there's nothing for you to do but to be brave, and hide your grief as well as you can, for the man is unworthy of your love. That coward spoke the truth. He is there at this moment."

"Oh, papa! papa! let me die! The world is too wicked for me. Let me die!"

"Die for an unworthy object? For shame! Go to your own room, my girl, and pray to your God to help you, since your mother has left us. Oh, how I miss her now! Go and pray, and let no one else know what we suffer. Be your father's daughter. Fight and pray."

Poor Bella had no longer to complain that she was not commanded. She kissed him, and burst into a great passion of weeping; but he led her to the door, and she tottered to her own room, a blighted girl.

The sight of her was harrowing. Under its influence the admiral dashed off a letter to Sir Charles, calling him a villain, and inviting him to go to France and let an indignant father write scoundrel on his carcass.

But when he had written this his good sense and dignity prevailed over his fury; he burned the letter, and wrote another. This he sent by hand to Sir Charles's house, and ordered his servants--but that the reader knows.

Sir Charles found the admiral's letter in his letter-rack. It ran thus:


"SIR--We have learned your connection with a lady named Somerset, and I have ascertained that you went from my daughter to her house this very day.

"Miss Bruce and myself withdraw from all connection with you, and I must request you to attempt no communication with her of any kind. Such an attempt would be an additional insult.

"I am, sir, your obedient servant,



At first Sir Charles Bassett was stunned by this blow. Then his mind resisted the admiral's severity, and he was indignant at being dismissed for so common an offense. This gave way to deep grief and shame at the thought of Bella and her lost esteem. But soon all other feelings merged for a time in fury at the heartless traitor who had destroyed his happiness, and had dashed the cup of innocent love from his very lips. Boiling over with mortification and rage, he drove at once to that traitor's house. Polly opened the door. He rushed past her, and burst into the dining-room, breathless, and white with passion.

He found Miss Somerset studying the deed by which he had made her independent for life. She started at his strange appearance, and instinctively put both hands flat upon the deed.

"You vile wretch!" cried Sir Charles. "You heartless monster! Enjoy your work." And he flung her the admiral's letter. But he did not wait while she read it; he heaped reproaches on her; and, for the first time in her life, she did not reply in kind.

"Are you mad?" she faltered. "What have I done?"

"You have told Admiral Bruce."

"That's false."

"You told him I was to be here to-day."

"Charles, I never did. Believe me."

"You did. Nobody knew it but you. He was here to-day at the very hour."

"May I never get up alive off this chair if I told a soul. Yes, our Polly. I'll ring for her."

"No, you will not. She is your sister. Do you think I'll take the word of such reptiles against the plain fact? You have parted my love and me--parted us on the very day I had made you independent for life. An innocent love was waiting to bless me, and an honest love was in your power, thanks to me, your kind, forgiving friend and benefactor. I have heaped kindness on you from the first moment I had the misfortune to know you. I connived at your infidelities--"

"Charles! Don't say that. I never was."

"I indulged your most expensive whims, and, instead of leaving you with a curse, as all the rest did that ever knew you, and as you deserve, I bought your consent to lead a respectable life, and be blessed with a virtuous love. You took the bribe, but robbed me of the blessing--viper! You have destroyed me, body and soul--monster! perhaps blighted her happiness as well; you she-devils hate an angel worse than Heaven hates you. But you shall suffer with us; not your heart, for you have none, but your pocket. You have broken faith with me, and sent all my happiness to hell; I'll send your deed to hell after it!" With this, he flung himself upon the deed, and was going to throw it into the fire. Now up to that moment she had been overpowered by this man's fury, whom she had never seen the least angry before; but when he laid hands on her property it acted like an electric shock. "No! no!" she screamed, and sprang at him like a wildcat.

Then ensued a violent and unseemly struggle all about the room; chairs were upset, and vases broken to pieces; and the man and woman dragged each other to and fro, one fighting for her property, as if it was her life, and the other for revenge.

Sir Charles, excited by fury, was stronger than himself, and at last shook off one of her hands for a moment, and threw the deed into the fire. She tried to break from him and save it, but he held her like iron.

Yet not for long. While he was holding her back, and she straining every nerve to get to the fire, he began to show sudden symptoms of distress. He gasped loudly, and cried, "Oh! oh! I'm choking!" and then his clutch relaxed. She tore herself from it, and, plunging forward, rescued the smoking parchment.

At that moment she heard a great stagger behind her, and a pitiful moan, and Sir Charles fell heavily, striking his head against the edge of the sofa. She looked round--as she knelt, and saw him, black in the face, rolling his eyeballs fearfully, while his teeth gnashed awfully, and a little jet of foam flew through his lips.

Then she shrieked with terror, and the blackened deed fell from her hands. At this moment Polly rushed into the room. She saw the fearful sight, and echoed her sister's scream. But they were neither of them women to lose their heads and beat the air with their hands. They got to him, and both of them fought hard with the unconscious sufferer, whose body, in a fresh convulsion, now bounded away from the sofa, and bade fair to batter itself against the ground.

They did all they could to hold him with one arm apiece, and to release his swelling throat with the other. Their nimble fingers whipped off his neck-tie in a moment; but the distended windpipe pressed so against the shirt-button they could not undo it. Then they seized the collar, and, pulling against each other, wrenched the shirt open so powerfully that the button flew into the air, and tinkled against a mirror a long way off.

A few more struggles, somewhat less violent, and then the face, from purple, began to whiten, the eyeballs fixed; the pulse went down; the man lay still.

"Oh, my God!" cried Rhoda Somerset. "He is dying! To the nearest doctor! There's one three doors off. No bonnet! It's life and death this moment. Fly!"

Polly obeyed, and Doctor Andrews was actually in the room within five minutes.

He looked grave, and kneeled down by the patient, and felt his pulse anxiously.

Miss Somerset sat down, and, being from the country, though she did not look it, began to weep bitterly, and rock herself in rustic fashion.

The doctor questioned her kindly, and she told him, between her sobs, how Sir Charles had been taken.

The doctor, however, instead of being alarmed by those frightful symptoms she related, took a more cheerful view directly. "Then do not alarm yourself unnecessarily," he said. "It was only an epileptic fit."

"Only!" sobbed Miss Somerset. "Oh, if you had seen him! And he lies like death."

"Yes," said Dr. Andrews; "a severe epileptic fit is really a terrible thing to look at; but it is not dangerous in proportion. Is he used to have them?"

"Oh, no, doctor--never had one before."

Here she was mistaken, I think.

"You must keep him quiet; and give him a moderate stimulant as soon as he can swallow comfortably; the quietest room in the house; and don't let him be hungry, night or day. Have food by his bedside, and watch him for a day or two. I'll come again this evening."

The doctor went to his dinner--tranquil.

Not so those he left. Miss Somerset resigned her own luxurious bedroom, and had the patient laid, just as he was, upon her bed. She sent the page out to her groom and ordered two loads of straw to be laid before the door; and she watched by the sufferer, with brandy and water by her side.

Sir Charles now might have seemed to be in a peaceful slumber, but for his eyes. They were open, and showed more white, and less pupil, than usual.

However, in time he began to sigh and move, and even mutter; and, gradually, some little color came back to his pale cheeks.

Then Miss Somerset had the good sense to draw back out of his sight, and order Polly to take her place by his side. Polly did so, and, some time afterward, at a fresh order, put a teaspoonful of brandy to his lips, which were still pale and even bluish.

The doctor returned, and brought his assistant. They put the patient to bed.

"His life is in no danger," said he. "I wish I was as sure about his reason."


At one o'clock in the morning, as Polly was snoring by the patient's bedside, a hand was laid on her shoulder. It was Rhoda.

"Go to bed, Polly: you are no use here."

"You'd be sleepy if you worked as hard as I do."

"Very likely," said Rhoda, with a gentleness that struck Polly as very singular. "Good-night."

Rhoda spent the night watching, and thinking harder than she had ever thought before.

Next morning, early, Polly came into the sick-room. There sat her sister watching the patient, out of sight.

"La, Rhoda! Have you sat there all night?"

"Yes. Don't speak so loud. Come here. You've set your heart on this lilac silk. I'll give it to you for your black merino."

"Not you, my lady; you are not so fond of mereeny, nor of me neither."

"I'm not a liar like you," said the other, becoming herself for a moment, "and what I say I'll do. You put out your merino for me in the dressing-room."

"All right," said Polly, joyfully.

"And bring me two buckets of water instead of one. I have never closed my eyes."

"Poor soul! and now you be going to sluice yourself all the same. Whatever you can see in cold water, to run after it so, I can't think. If I was to flood myself like you, it would soon float me to my long home."

"How do you know? You never gave it a trial. Come, no more chat. Give me my bath: and then you may wash yourself in a tea-cup if you like--only don't wash my spoons in the same water, for mercy's sake!"

Thus affectionately stimulated in her duties, Polly brought cold water galore, and laid out her new merino dress. In this sober suit, with plain linen collar and cuffs, the Somerset dressed herself, and resumed her watching by the bedside. She kept more than ever out of sight, for the patient was now beginning to mutter incoherently, yet in a way that showed his clouded faculties were dwelling on the calamity which had befallen him.

About noon the bell was rung sharply, and, on Polly entering, Rhoda called her to the window and showed her two female figures plodding down the street. "Look," said she. "Those are the only women I envy. Sisters of Charity. Run you after them, and take a good look at those beastly ugly caps: then come and tell me how to make one."

"Here's a go!" said Polly; but executed the commission promptly.

It needed no fashionable milliner to turn a yard of linen into one of those ugly caps, which are beautiful banners of Christian charity and womanly tenderness to the sick and suffering. The monster cap was made in an hour, and Miss Somerset put it on, and a thick veil, and then she no longer thought it necessary to sit out of the patient's sight.

The consequence was that, in the middle of his ramblings, he broke off and looked at her. The sister puzzled him. At last he called to her in French.

She made no reply.

"Je suis à l'hôpital, n'est ce pas bonne soeur?"

"I am English," said she, softly.


"ENGLISH!" said Sir Charles. "Then tell me, how did I come here? Where am I?"

"You had a fit, and the doctor ordered you to be kept quiet; and I am here to nurse you."

"A fit! Ay, I remember. That vile woman!"

"Don't think of her: give your mind to getting well: remember, there is somebody who would break her heart if you--"

"Oh, my poor Bella! my sweet, timid, modest, loving Bella!" He was so weakened that he cried like a child.

Miss Somerset rose, and laid her forehead sadly upon the window-sill.

"Why do I cry for her, like a great baby?" muttered Sir Charles. "She wouldn't cry for me. She has cast me off in a moment."

"Not she. It is her father's doing. Have a little patience. The whole thing shall be explained to them; and then she will soon soften the old man. 'It is not as if you were really to blame."

"No more I was. It is all that vile woman."

"Oh, don't! She is so sorry; she has taken it all to heart. She had once shammed a fit, on the very place; and when you had a real fit there--on the very spot--oh, it was so fearful--and lay like one dead, she saw God's finger, and it touched her hard heart. Don't say anything more against her just now. She is trying so hard to be good. And, besides, it is all a mistake: she never told that old admiral; she never breathed a word out of her own house. Her own people have betrayed her and you. She has made me promise two things: to find out who told the admiral, and--"


"The second thing I have to do-- Well, that is a secret between me and that unhappy woman. She is bad enough, but not so heartless as you think."

Sir Charles shook his head incredulously, but said no more; and soon after fell asleep.

In the evening he woke, and found the Sister watching.

She now turned her head away from him, and asked him quietly to describe Miss Bella Bruce to her.

He described her in minute and glowing terms. "But oh, Sister," said he, "it is not her beauty only, but the beauty of her mind. So gentle, so modest, so timid, so docile. She would never have had the heart to turn me off. But she will obey her father. She looked forward to obey me, sweet dove."

"Did she say so?"

"Yes, that is her dream of happiness, to obey."

The Sister still questioned him with averted head, and he told her what had passed between Bella and him the last time he saw her, and all their innocent plans of married happiness. He told her, with the tear in his eye, and she listened, with the tear in hers. "And then," said he, laying his hand on her shoulder, "is it not hard? I just went to Mayfair, not to please myself, but to do an act of justice--of more than justice; and then, for that, to have her door shut in my face. Only two hours between the height of happiness and the depth of misery."

The Sister said nothing, but she hid her face in her hands, and thought.

The next morning, by her order, Polly came into the room, and said, "You are to go home. The carriage is at the door." With this she retired, and Sir Charles's valet entered the room soon after to help him dress.

"Where am I, James?"

"Miss Somerset's house, Sir Charles."

"Then get me out of it directly."

"Yes, Sir Charles. The carriage is at the door."

"Who told you to come, James?"

"Miss Somerset, Sir Charles."

"That is odd."

"Yes, Sir Charles."


When he got home he found a sofa placed by a fire, with wraps and pillows; his cigar case laid out, and a bottle of salts, and also a small glass of old cognac, in case of faintness.

"Which of you had the gumption to do all this?"

"Miss Somerset, Sir Charles."

"What, has she been here?"

"Yes, Sir Charles."

"Curse her!"

"Yes, Sir Charles."



BELLA BRUCE was drinking the bitterest cup a young virgin soul can taste. Illusion gone--the wicked world revealed as it is, how unlike what she thought it was--love crushed in her, and not crushed out of her, as it might if she had been either proud or vain.

Frail men and women should see what a passionate but virtuous woman can suffer, when a revelation, of which they think but little, comes and blasts her young heart, and bids her dry up in a moment the deep well of her affection, since it flows for an unworthy object, and flows in vain. I tell you that the fair head severed from the chaste body is nothing to her compared with this. The fair body, pierced with heathen arrows, was nothing to her in the days of old compared with this.

In a word--for nowadays we can but amplify, and so enfeeble, what some old dead master of language, immortal though obscure, has said in words of granite--here

"Love lay bleeding."

No fainting--no vehement weeping; but oh, such deep desolation; such weariness of life; such a pitiable restlessness. Appetite gone; the taste of food almost lost; sleep unwilling to come; and oh, the torture of waking--for at that horrible moment all rushed back at once, the joy that had been, the misery that was, the blank that was to come.

She never stirred out, except when ordered, and then went like an automaton. Pale, sorrow-stricken, and patient, she moved about, the ghost of herself; and lay down a little, and then tried to work a little, and then to read a little; and could settle to nothing but sorrow and deep despondency.

Not that she nursed her grief. She had been told to be brave, and she tried. But her grief was her master. It came welling through her eyes in a moment, of its own accord.

She was deeply mortified too. But, in her gentle nature, anger could play but a secondary part. Her indignation was weak beside her grief, and did little to bear her up.

Yet her sense of shame was vivid; and she tried hard not to let her father see how deeply she loved the man who had gone from her to Miss Somerset. Besides, he had ordered her to fight against a love that now could only degrade her; he had ordered, and it was for her to obey.

As soon as Sir Charles was better, he wrote her a long, humble letter, owning that, before he knew her, he had led a free life; but assuring her that, ever since that happy time, his heart and his time had been solely hers; as to his visit to Miss Somerset, it had been one of business merely, and this he could prove, if she would receive him. The admiral could be present at that interview, and Sir Charles hoped to convince him he had been somewhat hasty and harsh in his decision.

Now the admiral had foreseen Sir Charles would write to her; so he had ordered his man to bring all letters to him first.

He recognized Sir Charles's hand, and brought the latter in to Bella. "Now, my child," said he, "be brave. Here is a letter from that man."

"Oh, papa! I thought he would. I knew he would." And the pale face was flushed with joy and hope all in a moment.

"Do what?"

"Write and explain."

"Explain? A thing that is clear as sunshine. He has written to throw dust in your eyes again. You are evidently in no state to judge. I shall read this letter first."

"Yes, papa," said Bella, faintly.

He did read it, and she devoured his countenance all the time.

"There is nothing in it. He offers no real explanation, but only says he can explain, and asks for an interview--to play upon your weakness. If I give you this letter, it will only make you cry, and render your task more difficult. I must be strong for your good, and set you an example. I loved this young man too; but, now I know him"--then he actually thrust the letter into the fire.

But this was too much. Bella shrieked at the act, and put her hand to her heart, and shrieked again. "Ah! you'll kill us, you'll kill us both!" she cried. "Poor Charles! Poor Bella! You don't love your child--you have no pity." And, for the first time, her misery was violent. She writhed and wept, and at last went into violent hysterics, and frightened that stout old warrior more than cannon had ever frightened him; and presently she became quiet, and wept at his knees, and begged his forgiveness, and said he was wiser than she was, and she would obey him in everything, only he must not be angry with her if she could not live.

Then the stout admiral mingled his tears with hers, and began to realize what deep waters of affliction his girl was wading in.

Yet he saw no way out but firmness. He wrote to Sir Charles to say that his daughter was too ill to write; but that no explanation was possible, and no interview could be allowed.

Sir Charles, who, after writing, had conceived the most sanguine hopes, was now as wretched as Bella. Only, now that he was refused a hearing, he had wounded pride to support him a little under wounded love.

Admiral Bruce, fearing for his daughter's health, and even for her life--she pined so visibly--now ordered her to divide her day into several occupations, and exact divisions of time--an hour for this, an hour for that; an hour by the clock--and here he showed practical wisdom. Try it, ye that are very unhappy, and tell me the result.

As a part of this excellent system, she had to walk round the square from eleven to twelve A. M., but never alone; he was not going to have Sir Charles surprising her into an interview. He always went with her, and, as he was too stiff to walk briskly, he sat down, and she had to walk in sight. He took a stout stick with him--for Sir Charles. But Sir Charles was proud, and stayed at home with his deep wound.

One day, walking round the square with a step of Mercury and heart of lead, Bella Bruce met a Sister of Charity pacing slow and thoughtful; their eyes met and drank, in a moment, every feature of each other.

The Sister, apparently, had seen the settled grief on that fair face; for the next time they met, she eyed her with a certain sympathy, which did not escape Bella.

This subtle interchange took place several times and Bella could not help feeling a little grateful. "Ah!" she thought to herself, "how kind religious people are! I should like to speak to her." And the next time they met she looked wistfully in the Sister's face.

She did not meet her again, for she went and rested on a bench, in sight of her father, but at some distance from him. Unconsciously to herself, his refusal even to hear Sir Charles repelled her. That was so hard on him and her. It looked like throwing away the last chance, the last little chance of happiness.

By-and-by the Sister came and sat on the same bench.

Bella was hardly surprised, but blushed high, for she felt that her own eyes had invited the sympathy of a stranger; and now it seemed to be coming. The timid girl felt uneasy. The Sister saw that, and approached her with tact. "You look unwell," said she, gently, but with no appearance of extravagant interest or curiosity.

"I am--a little," said Bella, very reservedly.

"Excuse my remarking it. We are professional nurses, and apt to be a little officious, I fear."

No reply.

"I saw you were unwell. But I hope it is not serious. I can generally tell when the sick are in danger." A peculiar look. "I am glad not to see it in so young and--good a face."

"You are young, too; very young, and--" she was going to say "beautiful," but she was too shy-- "to be a Sister of Charity. But I am sure you never regret leaving such a world as this is."

"Never. I have lost the only thing I ever valued in it."

"I have no right to ask you what that was."

"You shall know without asking. One I loved proved unworthy."

The Sister sighed deeply, and then, hiding her face with her hands for a moment, rose abruptly, and left the square, ashamed, apparently, of having been betrayed into such a confession.

Bella, when she was twenty yards off, put out a timid hand, as if to detain her; but she had not the courage to say anything of the kind.

She never told her father a word. She had got somebody now who could sympathize with her better than he could.

Next day the Sister was there, and Bella bowed to her when she met her. This time it was the Sister who went and sat on the bench.

Bella continued her walk for some time, but at last could not resist the temptation. She came and sat down on the bench, and blushed; as much as to say, "I have the courage to come, but not to speak upon a certain subject, which shall be nameless."

The Sister, as may be imagined, was not so shy. She opened a conversation. "I committed a fault yesterday. I spoke to you of myself, and of the past: it is discouraged by our rules. We are bound to inquire the griefs of others; not to tell our own."

This was a fair opening, but Bella was too delicate to show her wounds to a fresh acquaintance.

The Sister, having failed at that, tried something very different.

"But I could tell you a pitiful case about another. Some time ago I nursed a gentleman whom love had laid on a sick-bed."

"A gentleman! What! can they love as we do?" said Bella, bitterly.

"Not many of them; but this was an exception. But I don't know whether I ought to tell these secrets to so young a lady."

"Oh, yes--please--what else is there in this world worth talking about? Tell me about the poor man who could love as we can."

The Sister seemed to hesitate, but at last decided to go on.

"Well, he was a man of the world, and he had not always been a good man; but he was trying to be. He had fallen in love with a young lady, and seen the beauty of virtue, and was going to marry her and lead a good life. But he was a man of honor, and there was a lady for whom he thought it was his duty to provide. He set his lawyer to draw a deed, and his lawyer appointed a day for signing it at her house. The poor man came because his lawyer told him. Do you think there was any great harm in that?"

"No; of course not."

"Well, then, he lost his love for that."

Miss Bruce's color began to come and go, and her supple figure to crouch a little. She said nothing.

The Sister continued: "Some malicious person went and told the young lady's father the gentleman was in the habit of visiting that lady, and would be with her at a certain hour. And so he was; but it was the lawyer's appointment, you know. You seem agitated."

"No, no; not agitated," said Bella, "but astonished; it is so like a story I know. A young lady, a friend of mine, had an anonymous letter, telling her that one she loved and esteemed was unworthy. But what you have told me shows me how deceitful appearances may be. What was your patient's name?"

"It is against our rules to tell that. But you said an 'anonymous letter.' Was your friend so weak as to believe an anonymous letter? The writer of such a letter is a coward, and a coward always is a liar. Show me your friend's anonymous letter. I may, perhaps, be able to throw a light on it."

The conversation was interrupted by Admiral Bruce, who had approached them unobserved. "Excuse me," said he, "but you ladies seem to have hit upon a very interesting theme."

"Yes, papa," said Bella. "I took the liberty to question this lady as to her experiences of sick-beds, and she was good enough to give me some of them."

Having uttered this with a sudden appearance of calmness that first amazed the Sister, then made her smile, she took her father's arm, bowed politely, and a little stiffly, to her new friend, and drew the admiral away.

"Oh!" thought the Sister. "I am not to speak to the old gentleman. He is not in her confidence. Yet she is very fond of him. How she hangs on his arm! Simplicity! Candor! We are all tarred with the same stick--we women."

That night Bella was a changed girl--exalted and depressed by turns, and with no visible reason.

Her father was pleased. Anything better than that deadly languor.

The next day Bella sat by her father's side in the square, longing to go to the Sister, yet patiently waiting to be ordered.

At last the admiral, finding her dull and listless, said, "Why don't you go and talk to the Sister? She amuses you. I'll join you when I have smoked this cigar."

The obedient Bella rose, and went toward the Sister as if compelled. But when she got to her her whole manner changed. She took her warmly by the hand, and said, trembling and blushing, and all on fire, "I have brought you the anonymous letter."

The elder actress took it and ran her eye over it--an eye that now sparkled like a diamond. "Humph!" said she, and flung off all the dulcet tones of her assumed character with mighty little ceremony. "This hand is disguised a little, but I think I know it. I am sure I do! The dirty little rascal!"

"Madam!" cried Bella, aghast with surprise at this language.

"I tell you I know the writer and his rascally motive. You must lend me this for a day or two."

"Must I?" said Bella. "Excuse me! Papa would be so angry."

"Very likely; but you will lend it to me for all that; for with this I can clear Miss Bruce's lover and defeat his enemies."

Bella uttered a faint cry, and trembled, and her bosom heaved violently. She looked this way and that, like a frightened deer. "But papa? His eye is on us."

"Never deceive your father!" said the Sister, almost sternly; "but," darting her gray eyes right into those dove-like orbs, "give me five minutes' start--IF YOU REALLY LOVE SIR CHARLES BASSETT."

With these words she carried off the letter; and Bella ran, blushing, panting, trembling, to her father, and clung to him.

He questioned her, but could get nothing from her very intelligible until the Sister was out of sight, and then she told him all without reserve.

"I was unworthy of him to doubt him. An anonymous slander. I'll never trust appearances again. Poor Charles! Oh, my darling! what he must have suffered if he loves like me." Then came a shower of happy tears; then a shower of happy kisses.

The admiral groaned, but for a long time he could not get a word in. When he did it was chilling. "My poor girl," said he, "this unhappy love blinds you. What, don't you see the woman is no nun, but some sly hussy that man has sent to throw dust in your eyes?"

Nothing she could say prevailed to turn him from this view, and he acted upon it with resolution: he confined her excursions to a little garden at the back of the house, and forbade her, on any pretense, to cross the threshold.

Miss Somerset came to the square in another disguise, armed with important information. But no Bella Bruce appeared to meet her.


All this time Richard Bassett was happy as a prince.

So besotted was he with egotism, and so blinded by imaginary wrongs, that he rejoiced in the lovers' separation, rejoiced in his cousin's attack.

Polly, who now regarded him almost as a lover, told him all about it; and already in anticipation he saw himself and his line once more lords of the two manors--Bassett and Huntercombe--on the demise of Sir Charles Bassett, Bart., deceased without issue.

And, in fact, Sir Charles was utterly defeated. He lay torpid.

But there was a tough opponent in the way--all the more dangerous that she was not feared.

One fine day Miss Somerset electrified her groom by ordering her pony carriage to the door at ten A. M.

She took the reins on the pavement, like a man, jumped in light as a feather, and away rattled the carriage into the City. The ponies were all alive, the driver's eye keen as a bird's; her courage and her judgment equal. She wound in and out among the huge vehicles with perfect composure; and on those occasions when, the traffic being interrupted, the oratorical powers were useful to fill up the time, she shone with singular brilliance. The West End is too often in debt to the City, but, in the matter of chaff, it was not so this day; for whenever she took a peck she returned a bushel; and so she rattled to the door of Solomon Oldfield, solicitor, Old Jewry.

She penetrated into the inner office of that worthy, and told him he must come with her that minute to Portman Square.

"Impossible, madam!" And, as they say in the law reports, gave his reasons.

"Certain, sir!" And gave no reasons.

He still resisted.

Thereupon she told him she should sit there all day and chaff his clients one after another, and that his connection with the Bassett and Huntercombe estates should end.

Then he saw he had to do with a termagant, and consented, with a sigh.

She drove him westward, wincing every now and then at her close driving, and told him all, and showed him what she was pleased to call her little game. He told her it was too romantic. Said he, "You ladies read nothing but novels; but the real world is quite different from the world of novels." Having delivered this remonstrance--which was tolerably just, for she never read anything but novels and sermons--he submitted like a lamb, and received her instructions.

She drove as fast as she talked, so that by this time they were at Admiral Bruce's door.

Now Mr. Oldfield took the lead, as per instructions. "Mr. Oldfield, solicitor, and a lady--on business."

The porter delivered this to the footman with the accuracy which all who send verbal messages deserve and may count on. "Mr. Oldfield and lady."

The footman, who represented the next step in oral tradition, without which form of history the Heathen world would never have known that Hannibal softened the rocks with vinegar, nor the Christian world that eleven thousand virgins dwelt in a German town the size of Putney, announced the pair as "Mr. and Mrs. Hautville."

"I don't know them, I think. Well, I will see them."

They entered, and the admiral stared a little, and wondered how this couple came together--the keen but plain old man, with clothes hanging on him, and the dashing beauty, with her dress in the height of the fashion, and her gauntleted hands. However, he bowed ceremoniously, and begged his visitors to be seated.

Now the folding-doors were ajar, and the soi-disant Mrs. Oldfield peeped. She saw Bella Bruce at some distance, seated by the fire, in a reverie.

Judge that young lady's astonishment when she looked up and observed a large white, well-shaped hand, sparkling with diamonds and rubies, beckoning her furtively.


The owner of that sparkling hand soon heard a soft rustle of silk come toward the door; the very rustle, somehow, was eloquent, and betrayed love and timidity, and something innocent yet subtle. The jeweled hand went in again directly.


MEANTIME Mr. Oldfield began to tell the admiral who he was, and that he was come to remove a false impression about a client of his, Sir Charles Bassett.

"That, sir," said the admiral, sternly, "is a name we never mention here."

He rose and went to the folding-doors, and deliberately closed them.

The Somerset, thus defeated, bit her lip, and sat all of a heap, like a cat about to spring, looking sulky and vicious.

Mr. Oldfield persisted, and, as he took the admiral's hint and lowered his voice, he was interrupted no more, but made a simple statement of those facts which are known to the reader.

Admiral Bruce heard them, and admitted that the case was not quite so bad as he had thought.

Then Mr. Oldfield proposed that Sir Charles should be re-admitted.

"No," said the old admiral, firmly; "turn it how you will, it is too ugly; the bloom of the thing is gone. Why should my daughter take that woman's leavings? Why should I give her pure heart to a man about town?"

"Because you will break it else," said Miss Somerset, with affected politeness.

"Give her credit for more dignity, madam, if you please," replied Admiral Bruce, with equal politeness.

"Oh, bother dignity!" cried the Somerset.

At this free phrase from so well-dressed a lady Admiral Bruce opened his eyes, and inquired of Oldfield, rather satirically, who was this lady that did him the honor to interfere in his family affairs.

Oldfield looked confused; but Somerset, full of mother-wit, was not to be caught napping. "I'm a by-stander; and they always see clearer than the folk themselves. You are a man of honor, sir, and you are very clever at sea, no doubt, and a fighter, and all that; but you are no match for land-sharks. You are being made a dupe and a tool of. Who do you think wrote that anonymous letter to your daughter? A friend of truth? a friend of injured innocence? Nothing of the sort. One Richard Bassett--Sir Charles's cousin. Here, Mr. Oldfield, please compare these two handwritings closely, and you will see I am right." She put down the anonymous letter and Richard Bassett's letter to herself; but she could not wait for Mr. Oldfield to compare the documents, now her tongue was set going. "Yes, gentlemen, this is new to you; but you'll find that little scheming rascal wrote them both, and with as base a motive and as black a heart as any other anonymous coward's. His game is to make Sir Charles Bassett die childless, and so then this dirty fellow would inherit the estate; and owing to you being so green, and swallowing an anonymous letter like pure water from the spring, he very nearly got his way. Sir Charles has been at death's door along of all this."

"Hush, madam! not so loud, please," whispered Admiral Bruce, looking uneasily toward the folding, doors.

"Why not?" bawled the Somerset. "THE TRUTH MAY BE BLAMED, BUT IT CAN'T BE SHAMED. I tell you that your precious letter brought Sir Charles Bassett to the brink of the grave. Soon as ever he got it he came tearing in his cab to Miss Somerset's house, and accused her of telling the lie to keep him--and he might have known better, for the jade never did a sneaking thing in her life. But, any way, he thought it must be her doing, miscalled her like a dog, and raged at her dreadful, and at last--what with love and fury and despair--he had the terriblest fit you ever saw. He fell down as black as your hat, and his eyes rolled, and his teeth gnashed, and he foamed at the mouth, and took four to hold him; and presently as white as a ghost, and given up for dead. No pulse for hours; and when his life came back his reason was gone."

"Good Heavens, madam!"

"For a time it was. How he did rave! and 'Bella' the only name on his lips. And now he lies in his own house as weak as water. Come, old gentleman, don't you be too hard; you are not a child, like your daughter; take the world as it is. Do you think you will ever find a man of fortune who has not had a lady friend? Why, every single gentleman in London that can afford to keep a saddle-horse has an article of that sort in some corner or other; and if he parts with her as soon as his banns are cried, that is all you can expect. Do you think any mother in Belgravia would make a row about that? They are downier than you are; they would shrug their aristocratic shoulders, and decline to listen to the past lives of their sons-in-law--unless it was all in the newspapers, mind you."

"If Belgravian mothers have mercenary minds, that is no reason why I should, whose cheeks have bronzed in the service of a virtuous queen, and whose hairs have whitened in honor."

On receiving this broadside the Somerset altered her tone directly, and said, obsequiously: "That is true, sir, and I beg your pardon for comparing you to the trash. But brave men are pitiful, you know. Then show your pity here. Pity a gentleman that repented his faults as soon as your daughter showed him there was a better love within reach, and now lies stung by an anonymous viper, and almost dying of love and mortification; and pity your own girl, that will soon lose her health, and perhaps her life, if you don't give in."

"She is not so weak, madam. She is in better spirits already."

"Ay, but then she didn't know what he had suffered for her. She does now, for I heard her moan; and she will die for him now, or else she will give you twice as many kisses as usual some day, and cry a bucketful over you, and then run away with her lover. I know women better than you do; I am one of the precious lot."

The admiral replied only with a look of superlative scorn. This incensed the Somerset; and that daring woman, whose ear was nearer to the door, and had caught sounds that escaped the men, actually turned the handle, and while her eye flashed defiance, her vigorous foot spurned the folding-doors wide open in half a moment.

Bella Bruce lay with her head sidewise on the table, and her hands extended, moaning and sobbing piteously for poor Sir Charles.

"For shame, madam, to expose my child," cried the admiral, bursting with indignation and grief. He rushed to her and took her in his arms.

She scarcely noticed him, for the moment he turned her she caught sight of Miss Somerset, and recognized her face in a moment. "Ah! the Sister of Charity!" she cried, and stretched out her hands to her, with a look and a gesture so innocent, confiding, and imploring, that the Somerset, already much excited by her own eloquence, took a turn not uncommon with termagants, and began to cry herself.

But she soon stopped that, for she saw her time was come to go, and avoid unpleasant explanations. She made a dart and secured the two letters. "Settle it among yourselves," said she, wheeling round and bestowing this advice on the whole party; then shot a sharp arrow at the admiral as she fled: "If you must be a tool of Richard Bassett, don't be a tool and a dupe by halves. He is in love with her too. Marry her to the blackguard, and then you will be sure to kill Sir Charles." Having delivered this with such volubility that the words pattered out like a roll of musketry, she flounced out, with red cheeks and wet eyes, rushed down the stairs, and sprang into her carriage, whipped the ponies, and away at a pace that made the spectators stare.

Mr. Oldfield muttered some excuses, and retired more sedately.

All this set Bella Bruce trembling and weeping, and her father was some time before he could bring her to anything like composure. Her first words, when she could find breath, were, "He is innocent; he is unhappy. Oh, that I could fly to him!"

"Innocent! What proof?"

"That brave lady said so."

"Brave lady! A bold hussy. Most likely a friend of the woman Somerset, and a bird of the same feather. Sir Charles has done himself no good with me by sending such an emissary."

"No, papa; it was the lawyer brought her, and then her own good heart made her burst out. Ah! she is not like me: she has courage. What a noble thing courage is, especially in a woman!"

"Pray did you hear the language of this noble lady?"

"Every word nearly; and I shall never forget them. They were diamonds and pearls."

"Of the sort you can pick up at Billingsgate."

"Ah, papa, she pleaded for him as I cannot plead, and yet I love him. It was true eloquence. Oh, how she made me shudder! Only think: he had a fit, and lost his reason, and all for me. What shall I do? What shall I do?"

This brought on a fit of weeping.

Her father pitied her, and gave her a crumb of sympathy: said he was sorry for Sir Charles.

"But," said he, recovering his resolution, "it cannot be helped. He must expiate his vices, like other men. Do, pray, pluck up a little spirit and sense. Now try and keep to the point. This woman came from him; and you say you heard her language, and admire it. Quote me some of it."

"She said he fell down as black as his hat, and his eyes rolled, and his poor teeth gnashed, and--oh, my darling! my darling! oh! oh! oh!"

"There--there--I mean about other things."

Bella complied, but with a running accompaniment of the sweetest little sobs.

"She said I must be very green, to swallow an anonymous letter like spring water. Oh! oh!"

"Green? There was a word!"

"Oh! oh! But it is the right word. You can't mend it. Try, and you will see you can't. Of course I was green. Oh! And she said every gentleman who can afford to keep a saddle-horse has a female friend, till his banns are called in church. Oh! oh!"

"A pretty statement to come to your ears!"

"But if it is the truth! 'THE TRUTH MAY BE BLAMED, BUT IT CAN'T BE SHAMED.' Ah! I'll not forget that: I'll pray every night I may remember those words of the brave lady. Oh!"

"Yes, take her for your oracle."

"I mean to. I always try to profit by my superiors. She has courage: I have none. I beat about the bush, and talk skim-milk; she uses the very word. She said we have been the dupe and the tool of a little scheming rascal, an anonymous coward, with motives as base as his heart is black--oh! oh! Ay, that is the way to speak of such a man; I can't do it myself, but I reverence the brave lady who can. And she wasn't afraid even of you, dear papa. 'Come, old gentleman'--ha! ha! .ha!--'take the world as it is; Belgravian mothers would not break both their hearts for what is past and gone.' What hard good sense! a thing I always did admire: because I've got none. But her heart is not hard; after all her words of fire, that went so straight instead of beating the bush, she ended by crying for me. Oh! oh! oh! Bless her! Bless her! If ever there was a good woman in the world, that is one. She was not born a lady, I am afraid; but that is nothing: she was born a woman, and I mean to make her acquaintance, and take her for my example in all things. No, dear papa, women are not so pitiful to women without cause. She is almost a stranger, yet she cried for me. Can you be harder to me than she is? No; pity your poor girl, who will lose her health, and perhaps her life. Pity poor Charles, stung by an anonymous viper, and laid on a bed of sickness for me. Oh! oh! oh!"

"I do pity you, Bella. When you cry like this, my heart bleeds."

"I'll try not to cry, papa. Oh! oh!"

"But most of all, I pity your infatuation, your blindness. Poor, innocent dove, that looks at others by the light of her own goodness, and so sees all manner of virtues in a brazen hussy. Now answer me one plain question. You called her 'the Sister!' Is she not the same woman that played the Sister of Charity?"

Bella blushed to the temples, and said, hesitatingly, she was not quite sure.

"Come, Bella. I thought you were going to imitate the jade, and not beat about the bush. Yes or no?"

"The features are very like."

"Bella, you know it is the same woman. You recognized her in a moment. That speaks volumes. But she shall find I am not to be made 'a dupe and a tool of' quite so easily as she thinks. I'll tell you what--this is some professional actress Sir Charles has hired to waylay you. Little simpleton!"

He said no more at that time; but after dinner he ruminated, and took a very serious, indeed almost a maritime, view of the crisis. "I'm overmatched now," thought he. "They will cut my sloop out under the very guns of the flagship if we stay much longer in this port--a lawyer against me, and a woman too; there's nothing to be done but heave anchor, hoist sail, and run for it."

He sent off a foreign telegram, and then went upstairs. "Bella, my dear," said he, "pack up your clothes for a journey. We start to-morrow."

"A journey, papa! A long one?"

"No. We shan't double the Horn this time."

"Brighton? Paris?"

"Oh, farther than that."

"The grave: that is the journey I should like to take."

"So you shall, some day; but just now it is a foreign port you are bound for. Go and pack."

"I obey." And she was creeping off, but he called her back and kissed her, and said, "Now I'll tell you where you are going; but you must promise me solemnly not to write one line to Sir Charles."

She promised, but cried as soon as she had promised; whereat the admiral inferred he had done wisely to exact the promise.

"Well, my dear," said he, "we are going to Baden. Your aunt Molineux is there. She is a woman of great delicacy and prudence, and has daughters of her own all well married, thanks to her motherly care. She will bring you to your senses better than I can."

Next evening they left England by the mail; and the day after Richard Bassett learned this through his servant, and went home triumphant, and, indeed, wondering at his success. He ascribed it, however, to the Nemesis which dogs the heels of those who inherit the estate of another.

Such was the only moral reflection he made, though the business in general, and particularly his share in it, admitted of several.

Miss Somerset also heard of it, and told Mr. Oldfield; he told Sir Charles Bassett.

That gentleman sighed deeply, and said nothing. He had lost all hope.


The whole matter appeared stagnant for about ten days; and then a delicate hand stirred the dead waters cautiously. Mr. Oldfield, of all people in the world, received a short letter from Bella Bruce.


"Konigsberg Hotel, BADEN.

"Miss Bruce presents her compliments to Mr. Oldfield, and will feel much obliged if he will send her the name and address of that brave lady who accompanied him to her father's house.

"Miss Bruce desires to thank that lady, personally, for her noble defense of one with whom it would be improper for her to communicate; but she can never be indifferent to his welfare, nor hear of his sufferings without deep sorrow."


"Confound it!" said Solomon Oldfield. "What am I to do? I mustn't tell her it is Miss Somerset." So the wary lawyer had a copy of the letter made, and sent to Miss Somerset for instructions.

Miss Somerset sent for Mr. Marsh, who was now more at her beck and call than ever, and told him she had a ticklish letter to write. "I can talk with the best," said she, "but the moment I sit down and take up a pen something cold runs up my shoulder, and then down my backbone, and I'm palsied; now you are always writing, and can't say 'Bo' to a goose in company. Let us mix ourselves; I'll walk about and speak my mind, and then you put down the cream, and send it."

From this ingenious process resulted the following composition:


"She whom Miss Bruce is good enough to call 'the brave lady' happened to know the truth, and that tempted her to try and baffle an anonymous slanderer, who was ruining the happiness of a lady and gentleman. Being a person of warm impulses, she went great lengths; but she now wishes to retire into the shade. She is flattered by Miss Bruce's desire to know her, and some day, perhaps, may remind her of it; but at present she must deny herself that honor. If her reasons were known, Miss Bruce would not be offended nor hurt; she would entirely approve them."


Soon after this, as Sir Charles Bassett sat by the fire, disconsolate, his servant told him a lady wanted to see him.

"Who is it?"

"Don't know, Sir Charles; but it is a kind of a sort of a nun, Sir Charles."

"Oh, a Sister of Charity! Perhaps the one that nursed me. Admit her, by all means."

The Sister came in. She had a large veil on. Sir Charles received her with profound respect, and thanked her, with some little hesitation, for her kind attention to him. She stopped him by saying that was merely her duty. "But," said she, softly, "words fell from you, on the bed of sickness, that touched my heart; and besides I happen to know the lady."

"You know my Bella!" cried Sir Charles. "Ah, then no wonder you speak so kindly; you can feel what I have lost. She has left England to avoid me."

"All the better. Where she is the door cannot be closed in your face. She is at Baden. Follow her there. She has heard the truth from Mr. Oldfield, and she knows who wrote the anonymous letter."

"And who did?"

"Mr. Richard Bassett."

This amazed Sir Charles.

"The scoundrel!" said he, after a long silence.

"Well, then, why let that fellow defeat you, for his own ends? I would go at once to Baden. Your leaving England would be one more proof to her that she has no rival. Stick to her like a man, sir, and you will win her, I tell you."

These words from a nun amazed and fired him. He rose from his chair, flushed with sudden hope and ardor. "I'll leave for Baden to-morrow morning."

The Sister rose to retire.

"No, no," cried Sir Charles. "I have not thanked you. I ought to go down on my knees and bless you for all this. To whom am I so indebted?"

"No matter, sir."

"But it does matter. You nursed me, and perhaps saved my life, and now you give me back the hopes that make life sweet. You will not trust me with your name?"

"We have no name."

"Your voice at times sounds very like--no, I will not affront you by such a comparison."

"I'm her sister," said she, like lightning.

This announcement quite staggered Sir Charles, and he was silent and uncomfortable. It gave him a chill.

The Sister watched him keenly, but said nothing.

Sir Charles did not know what to say, so he asked to see her face. "It must be as beautiful as your heart."

The Sister shook her head. "My face has been disfigured by a frightful disorder."

Sir Charles uttered an ejaculation of regret and pity.

"I could not bear to show it to one who esteems me as you seem to do. But perhaps it will not always be so."

"I hope not. You are young, and Heaven is good. Can I do nothing for you, who have done so much for me?"

"Nothing--unless--" said she, feigning vast timidity, "you could spare me that ring of yours, as a remembrance of the part I have played in this affair."

Sir Charles colored. It was a ruby of the purest water, and had been two centuries in his family. He colored, but was too fine a gentleman to hesitate. He said, "By all means. But it is a poor thing to offer you."

"I shall value it very much."

"Say no more. I am fortunate in having anything you deign to accept."

And so the ring changed hands.

The Sister now put it on her middle finger, and held up her hand, and her bright eyes glanced at it, through her veil, with that delight which her sex in general feel at the possession of a new bauble. She recovered herself, however, and told him, soberly, the ring should return to his family at her death, if not before.

"I will give you a piece of advice for it," said she. "Miss Bruce has foxy hair; and she is very timid. Don't you take her advice about commanding her. She would like to be your slave! Don't let her. Coax her to speak her mind. Make a friend of her. Don't you put her to this--that she must displease you, or else deceive you. She might choose wrong, especially with that colored hair."

"It is not in her nature to deceive."

"It is not in her nature to displease. Excuse me; I am too fanciful, and look at women too close. But I know your happiness depends on her. All your eggs are in that one basket. Well, I have told you how to carry the basket. Good-by."

Sir Charles saw her out, and bowed respectfully to her in the hall, while his servant opened the street door. He did her this homage as his benefactress.


When admiral and Miss Bruce reached Baden Mrs. Molineux was away on a visit; and this disappointed Admiral Bruce, who had counted on her assistance to manage and comfort Bella. Bella needed the latter very much. A glance at her pale, pensive, lovely face was enough to show that sorrow was rooted at her heart. She was subjected to no restraint, but kept the house of her own accord, thinking, as persons of her age are apt to do, that her whole history must be written in her face. Still, of course, she did go out sometimes; and one cold but bright afternoon she was strolling languidly on the parade, when all in a moment she met Sir Charles Bassett face to face.

She gave an eloquent scream, and turned pale a moment, and then the hot blood came rushing, and then it retired, and she stood at bay, with heaving bosom--and great eyes.

Sir Charles held out both hands pathetically. "Don't you be afraid of me."

When she found he was so afraid of offending her she became more courageous. "How dare you come here?" said she, but with more curiosity than violence, for it had been her dream of hope he would come.

"How could I keep away, when I heard you were here?"

"You must not speak to me, sir; I am forbidden."

"Pray do not condemn me unheard."

"If I listen to you I shall believe you. I won't hear a word. Gentlemen can do things that ladies cannot even speak about. Talk to my aunt Molineux; our fate depends on her. This will teach you not to be so wicked. What business have gentlemen to be so wicked? Ladies are not. No, it is no use; I will not hear a syllable. I am ashamed to be seen speaking to you. You are a bad character. Oh, Charles, is it true you had a fit?"


"And have you been very ill? You look ill."

"I am better now, dearest."

"Dearest! Don't call me names. How dare you keep speaking to me when I request you not?"

"But I can't excuse myself, and obtain my pardon, and recover your love, unless I am allowed to speak."

"Oh, you can speak to my aunt Molineux, and she will read you a fine lesson."

"Where is she?"

"Nobody knows. But there is her house, the one with the iron gate. Get her ear first, if you really love me; and don't you ever waylay me again. If you do, I shall say something rude to you, sir. Oh, I'm so happy!"

Having let this out, she hid her face with her hands, and fled like the very wind.

At dinner-time she was in high spirits.

The admiral congratulated her.

"Brava, Bell! Youth and health and a foreign air will soon cure you of that folly."

Bella blushed deeply, and said nothing. The truth struggled within her, too, but she shrank from giving pain, and receiving expostulation.

She kept the house, though, for two days, partly out of modesty, partly out of an honest and pious desire to obey her father as much as she could.

The third day Mrs. Molineux arrived, and sent over to the admiral.

He invited Bella to come with him. She consented eagerly, but was so long in dressing that he threatened to go without her. She implored him not to do that; and after a monstrous delay, the motive of which the reader may perhaps divine, father and daughter called on Mrs. Molineux. She received them very affectionately. But when the admiral, with some hesitation, began to enter on the great subject, she said, quietly, "Bella, my dear, go for a walk, and come back to me in half an hour."

"Aunt Molineux!" said Bella, extending both her hands imploringly to that lady.

Mrs. Molineux was proof against this blandishment, and Bella had to go.

When she was gone, this lady, who both as wife and mother was literally a model, rather astonished her brother the admiral. She said: "I am sorry to tell you that you have conducted this matter with perfect impropriety, both you and Bella. She had no business to show you that anonymous letter; and when she did show it you, you should have taken it from her, and told her not to believe a word of it."

"And married my daughter to a libertine! Why, Charlotte, I am ashamed of you."

Mrs. Molineux colored high; but she kept her temper, and ignored the interruption. "Then, if you decided to go into so indelicate a question at all (and really you were not bound to do so on anonymous information), why, then, you should have sent for Sir Charles, and given him the letter, and put him on his honor to tell you the truth. He would have told you the fact, instead of a garbled version; and the fact is that before he knew Bella he had a connection, which he prepared to dissolve, on terms very honorable to himself, as soon as he engaged himself to your daughter. What is there in that? Why, it is common, universal, among men of fashion. I am so vexed it ever came to Bella's knowledge: really it is dreadful to me, as a mother, that such a thing should have been discussed before that child. Complete innocence means complete ignorance; and that is how all my girls went to their husbands. However, what we must do now is to tell her Sir Charles has satisfied me he was not to blame; and after that the subject must never be recurred to. Sir Charles has promised me never to mention it, and no more shall Bella. And now, my dear John, let me congratulate you. Your daughter has a high-minded lover, who adores her, with a fine estate: he has been crying to me, poor fellow, as men will to a woman of my age; and if you have any respect for my judgment--ask him to dinner."

She added that it might be as well if, after dinner, he were to take a little nap.

Admiral Bruce did not fall into these views without discussion. I spare the reader the dialogue, since he yielded at last; only he stipulated that his sister should do the dinner, and the subsequent siesta.

Bella returned looking very wistful and anxious.

"Come here, niece," said Mrs. Molineux. "Kneel you at my knee. Now look--me in the face. Sir Charles has loved you, and you only, from the day he first saw you. He loves you now as much as ever. Do you love him?"

"Oh, aunt! aunt!" A shower of kisses, and a tear or two.

"That is enough. Then dry your eyes, and dress your beautiful hair a little better than that; for he dines with me to-day!"

Who so bright and happy now as Bella Bruce?


The dreaded aunt did not stop there. She held that after the peep into real life Bella Bruce had obtained, for want of a mother's vigilance, she ought to be a wife as soon as possible. So she gave Sir Charles a hint that Baden was a very good place to be married in; and from that moment Sir Charles gave Bella and her father no rest till they consented.

Little did Richard Bassett, in England, dream what was going on at Baden. He now surveyed the chimneys of Huntercombe Hall with resignation, and even with growing complacency, as chimneys that would one day be his, since their owner would not be in a hurry to love again. He shot Sir Charles's pheasants whenever they strayed into his hedgerows, and he lived moderately and studied health. In a word, content with the result of his anonymous letter, he confined himself now to cannily out-living the wrongful heir--his cousin.

One fine frosty day the chimneys of Huntercombe began to show signs of life; vertical columns of blue smoke rose in the air, one after another, till at last there were about forty going.

Old servants flowed down from London. New ones trickled in, with their boxes, from the country. Carriages were drawn out into the stable-yard, horses exercised, and a whisper ran that Sir Charles was coming to live on his estates, and not alone.

Richard Bassett went about inquiring cautiously.

The rumor spread and was confirmed by some little facts.

At last, one fine day, when the chimneys were all smoking, the church-bells began to peal.

Richard Bassett heard, and went out, scowling deeply. He found the village all agog with expectation.

Presently there was a loud cheer from the steeple, and a flag floated from the top of Huntercombe House. Murmurs. Distant cheers. Approaching cheers. The clatter of horses' feet. The roll of wheels. Huntercombe gates flung wide open by a cluster of grooms and keepers.

Then on came two outriders, ushered by loud hurrahs, and followed by a carriage and four that dashed through the village amid peals of delight from the villagers. The carriage was open, and in it sat Sir Charles and Bella Bassett. She was lovelier than ever; she dazzled the very air with her beauty and her glorious hair. The hurrahs of the villagers made her heart beat; she pressed Sir Charles's hand tenderly, and literally shone with joy and pride; and so she swept past Richard Bassett; she saw him directly, shuddered a moment, and half clung to her husband; then on again, and passed through the open gates amid loud cheers. She alighted in her own hall, and walked, nodding and smiling sunnily, through two files of domestics and retainers; and thought no more of Richard Bassett than some bright bird that has flown over a rattlesnake and glanced down at him.


But a gorgeous bird cannot always be flying. A snake can sometimes creep under her perch, and glare, and keep hissing, till she shudders and droops and lays her plumage in the dust.


GENERALLY deliberate crimes are followed by some great punishment; but they are also often attended in their course by briefer chastisements--single strokes from the whip that holds the round dozen in reserve. These precursors of the grand expiation are sharp but kindly lashes, for they tend to whip the man out of the wrong road.

Such a stroke fell on Richard Bassett: he saw Bella Bruce sweep past him, clinging to her husband, and shuddering at himself. For this, then, he had plotted and intrigued and written an anonymous letter. The only woman he had ever loved at all went past him with a look of aversion, and was his enemy's wife, and would soon be the mother of that enemy's children, and blot him forever out of the coveted inheritance.

The man crept home, and sat by his little fireside, crushed. Indeed, from that hour he disappeared, and drank his bitter cup alone.

After a while it transpired in the village that he was very ill. The clergyman went to visit him, but was not admitted. The only person who got to see him was his friend Wheeler, a small but sharp attorney, by whose advice he acted in country matters. This Wheeler was very fond of shooting, and could not get a crack at a pheasant except on Highmore; and that was a bond between him and its proprietor. It was Wheeler who had first told Bassett not to despair of possessing the estates, since they had inserted Sir Charles's heir at law in the entail.

This Wheeler found him now so shrunk in body, so pale and haggard in face, and dejected in mind, that he was really shocked, and asked leave to send a doctor from a neighboring town.

"What to do?" said Richard, moodily. "It's my mind; it's not my body. Ah, Wheeler, it is all over. I and mine shall never have Huntercombe now."

"I'll tell you what it is," said Wheeler, almost angrily, "you will have six feet by two of it before long if you go on this way. Was ever such folly! to fret yourself out of this jolly world because you can't get one particular slice of its upper crust. Why, one bit of land is as good as another; and I'll show you how to get land--in this neighborhood, too. Ay, right under Sir Charles's nose."

"Show me that," said Bassett, gloomily and incredulously.

"Leave off moping, then, and I will. I advise the bank, you know, and 'Splatchett's' farm is mortgaged up to the eyes. It is not the only one. I go to the village inns, and pick up all the gossip I hear there."

"How am I to find money to buy land?"

"I'll put you up to that, too; but you must leave off moping. Hang it, man, never say die. There are plenty of chances on the cards. Get your color back, and marry a girl with money, and turn that into land. The first thing is to leave off grizzling. Why, you are playing the enemy's game. That can't be right, can it?"

This remark was the first that really roused the sick man.

Wheeler had too few clients to lose one. He now visited Bassett almost daily, and, being himself full of schemes and inventions, he got Bassett, by degrees, out of his lethargy, and he emerged into daylight again; but he looked thin, and yellow as a guinea, and he had turned miser. He kept but one servant, and fed her and himself at Sir Charles Bassett's expense. He wired that gentleman's hares and rabbits in his own hedges. He went out with his gun every sunny afternoon, and shot a brace or two of pheasants, without disturbing the rest; for he took no dog with him to run and yelp, but a little boy, who quietly tapped the hedgerows and walked the sunny banks and shaws. They never came home empty-handed.

But on those rarer occasions when Sir Charles and his friends beat the Bassett woods Richard was sure to make a large bag; for he was a cool, unerring shot, and flushed the birds in hedgerows, slips of underwood, etc., to which the fairer sportsmen had driven them.

These birds and the surplus hares he always sold in the market-town, and put the money into a box. The rabbits he ate, and also squirrels, and, above all, young hedgehogs: a gypsy taught him how to cook them, viz., by inclosing them in clay, and baking them in wood embers; then the bristles adhere to the burned clay, and the meat is juicy. He was his own gardener, and vegetables cost him next to nothing.

So he went on through all the winter months, and by the spring his health and strength were restored. Then he turned woodman, cut down every stick of timber in a little wood near his house, and sold it; and then set to work to grub up the roots for fires, and cleared it for tillage. The sum he received for the wood was much more than he expected, and this he made a note of.

He had a strong body, that could work hard all day, a big hate, and a mania for the possession of land. And so he led a truly Spartan life, and everybody in the village said he was mad.

While he led this hard life Sir Charles and Lady Bassett were the gayest of the gay. She was the beauty and the bride. Visits and invitations poured in from every part of the country. Sir Charles, flattered by the homage paid to his beloved, made himself younger and less fastidious to indulge her; and the happy pair often drove twelve miles to dinner, and twenty to dine and sleep--an excellent custom in that country, one of whose favorite toasts is worth recording: "MAY YOU DINE WHERE YOU PLEASE, AND SLEEP WHERE YOU DINE."

They were at every ball, and gave one or two themselves.

Above all, they enjoyed society in that delightful form which is confined to large houses. They would have numerous and well-assorted visitors staying at the house for a week or so, and all dining at a huge round table. But two o'clock P.M. was the time to see how hosts and guests enjoyed themselves. The hall door of Huntercombe was approached by a flight of stone steps, easy of ascent, and about twenty-four feet wide. At the riding hour the county ladies used to come, one after another, holding up their riding-habits with one hand, and perch about this gigantic flight of steps like peacocks, and chatter like jays, while the servants walked their horses about the gravel esplanade, and the four-in-hand waited a little in the rear. A fine champing of bits and fidgeting of thoroughbreds there was, till all were ready; then the ladies would each put out her little foot, with charming nonchalance, to the nearest gentleman or groom, with a slight preference for the grooms, who were more practiced. The man lifted, the lady sprang at the same time, and into her saddle like a bird--Lady Bassett on a very quiet pony, or in the carriage to please some dowager--and away they clattered in high spirits, a regular cavalcade. It was a hunting county, and the ladies rode well; square seat, light hand on the snaffle, the curb reserved for cases of necessity; and, when they had patted the horse on the neck at starting, as all these coaxing creatures must, they rode him with that well-bred ease and unconsciousness of being on a horse which distinguishes ladies who have ridden all their lives from the gawky snobbesses in Hyde Park, who ride, if riding it can be called, with their elbows uncouthly fastened to their sides as if by a rope, their hands at the pit of their stomachs, and both those hands, as heavy as a housemaid's, sawing the poor horse with curb and snaffle at once, while the whole body breathes pretension and affectation, and seems to say, "Look at me; I am on horseback! Be startled at that--as I am! and I have had lessons from a riding-master. He has taught me how a lady should ride"--in his opinion, poor devil.

The champing, the pawing, the mounting, and the clattering of these bright cavalcades, with the music of the women excited by motion, furnished a picture of wealth and gayety and happy country life that cheered the whole neighborhood, and contrasted strangely with the stern Spartan life of him who had persuaded himself he was the rightful owner of Huntercombe Hall.

Sir Charles Bassett was a magistrate, and soon found himself a bad one. One day he made a little mistake, which, owing to his popularity, was very gently handled by the Bench at their weekly meeting; but still Sir Charles was ashamed and mortified. He wrote directly to Oldfield for law books, and that gentleman sent him an excellent selection bound in smooth calf.

Sir Charles now studied three hours every day, except hunting days, when no squire can work; and as his study was his justice room, he took care to find an authority before he acted. He was naturally humane, and rustic offenders, especially poachers and runaway farm servants, used to think themselves fortunate if they were taken before him and not before Squire Powys, who was sure to give them the sharp edge of the law. So now Sir Charles was useful as well as ornamental.

Thus passed fourteen months of happiness, with only one little cloud--there was no sign yet of a son and heir. But let a man be ever so powerful, it is an awkward thing to have a bitter, inveterate enemy at his door watching for a chance. Sir Charles began to realize this in the sixteenth month of his wedded bliss. A small estate called "Splatchett's" lay on his north side, and a marginal strip of this property ran right into a wood of his. This strip was wretched land, and the owner, unable to raise any wheat crop on it, had planted it with larches.

Sir Charles had made him a liberal offer for "Splatchett's" about six years ago; but he had refused point-blank, being then in good circumstances.

Sir Charles now received a hint from one of his own gamekeepers that the old farmer was in a bad way, and talked of selling. So Sir Charles called on him, and asked him if he would sell "Splatchett's" now. "Why, I can't sell it twice," said the old man, testily. "You ha' got it, han't ye?" It turned out that Richard Bassett had been beforehand. The bank had pressed for their money, and threatened foreclosure; then Bassett had stepped in with a good price; and although the conveyance was not signed, a stamped agreement was, and neither vender nor purchaser could go back. What made it more galling, the proprietor was not aware of the feud between the Bassetts, and had thought to please Sir Charles by selling to one of his name.

Sir Charles Bassett went home seriously vexed. He did not mean to tell his wife; but love's eye read his face, love's arm went round his neck, and love's soft voice and wistful eyes soon coaxed it out of him. "Dear Charles," said she, "never mind. It is mortifying; but think how much you have, and how little that wicked man has. Let him have that farm; he has lost his self-respect, and that is worth a great many farms. For my part, I pity the poor wretch. Let him try to annoy you; your wife will try, against him, to make you happy, my own beloved; and I think I may prove as strong as Mr. Bassett," said she, with a look of inspiration.

Her sweet and tender sympathy soon healed so slight a scratch.

But they had not done with "Splatchett's" yet. Just after Christmas Sir Charles invited three gentlemen to beat his more distant preserves. Their guns bellowed in quick succession through the woods, and at last they reached North Wood. Here they expected splendid shooting, as a great many cock pheasants had already been seen running ahead.

But when they got to the end of the wood they found Lawyer Wheeler standing against a tree just within "Splatchett's" boundary, and one of their own beaters reported that two boys were stationed in the road, each tapping two sticks together to confine the pheasants to that strip of land, on which the low larches and high grass afforded a strong covert.

Sir Charles halted on his side of the boundary.

Then Wheeler told his man to beat, and up got the cock pheasants, one after another. Whenever a pheasant whirred up the man left off beating.

The lawyer knocked down four brace in no time, and those that escaped him and turned back for the wood were brought down by Bassett, firing from the hard road. Only those were spared that flew northward into "Splatchett's." It was a veritable slaughter, planned with judgment, and carried out in a most ungentlemanlike and unsportsmanlike manner.

It goaded Sir Charles beyond his patience. After several vain efforts to restrain himself, he shouldered his gun, and, followed by his friends, went bursting through the larches to Richard Bassett.

"Mr. Bassett," said he, "this is most ungentlernanly conduct."

"What is the matter, sir? Am I on your ground?"

"No, but you are taking a mean advantage of our being out. Who ever heard of a gentleman beating his boundaries the very day a neighbor was out shooting, and filling them with his game?"

"Oh, that is it, is it? When justice is against you you can talk of law, and when law is against you you appeal to justice. Let us be in one story or the other, please. The Huntercombe estates belong to me by birth. You have got them by legal trickery. Keep them while you live. They will come to me one day, you know. Meantime, leave me my little estate of 'Splatchett's.' For shame, sir; you have robbed me of my inheritance and my sweetheart; do you grudge me a few cock pheasants? Why, you have made me so poor they are an object to me now."

"Oh!" said Sir Charles, "if you are stealing my game to keep body and soul together, I pity you. In that case, perhaps you will let my friends help you fill your larder."

Richard Bassett hesitated a moment; but Wheeler, who had drawn near at the sound of the raised voices, made him a signal to assent.

"By all means," said he, adroitly. "Mr. Markham, your father often shot with mine over the Bassett estates. You are welcome to poor little 'Splatchett's.' Keep your men off, Sir Charles; they are noisy bunglers, and do more harm than good. Here, Tom! Bill! beat for the gentlemen. They shall have the sport. I only want the birds."

Sir Charles drew back, and saw pheasant after pheasant thunder and whiz into the air, then collapse at a report, and fall like lead, followed by a shower of feathers.

His friends seemed to be deserting him for Richard Bassett. He left them in charge of his keepers, and went slowly home.

He said nothing to Lady Bassett till night, and then she got it all from him. She was very indignant at many of the things; but as for Sir Charles, all his cousin's arrows glided off that high-minded gentleman, except one, and that quivered in his heart. "Yes, Bella," said he, "he told me he should inherit these estates. That is because we are not blessed with children."

Lady Bassett sighed. "But we shall be some day. Shall we not?"

"God knows," said Sir Charles, gloomily. "I wonder whether there was really anything unfair done on our side when the entail was cut off?"

"Is that likely, dearest? Why?"

"Heaven seems to be on his side."

"On the side of a wicked man?"

"But he may be the father of innocent children."

"Why, he is not even married."

"He will marry. He will not throw a chance away. It makes my head dizzy, and my heart sick. Bella, now I can understand two enemies meeting alone in some solitary place, and one killing the other in a moment of rage; for when this scoundrel insulted me I remembered his anonymous letter, and all his relentless malice. Bella, I could have raised my gun and shot him like a weasel."

Lady Bassett screamed faintly, and flung her arms round his neck. "Oh, Charles, pray to God against such thoughts. You shall never go near that man again. Don't think of our one disappointment: think of all the blessings we enjoy. Never mind that wretched man's hate. Think of your wife's love. Have I not more power to make you happy than he has to afflict you, my adored?" These sweet words were accompanied by a wife's divine caresses; with the honey of her voice, and the liquid sunshine of her loving eyes. Sir Charles slept peacefully that night, and forgot his one grief and his one enemy for a time.

Not so Lady Bassett. She lay awake all night and thought deeply of Richard Bassett and "his unrelenting, impenitent malice." Women of her fine fiber, when they think long and earnestly on one thing, have often divinations. The dark future seems to be lit a moment at a time by flashes of lightning, and they discern the indistinct form of events to come, And so it was with Lady Bassett: in the stilly night a terror of the future and of Richard Bassett crept over her--a terror disproportioned to his past acts and apparent power. Perhaps she was oppressed by having an enemy--she, who was born to be loved. At all events, she was full of feminine divinations and forebodings, and saw, by flashes, many a poisoned arrow fly from that quiver and strike the beloved breast. It had already discharged one that had parted them for a time, and nearly killed Sir Charles.

Daylight cleared away much of this dark terror, but left a sober dread and a strange resolution. This timid creature, stimulated by love, determined to watch the foe, and defend her husband with all her little power. All manner of devices passed through her head, but were rejected, because, if Love said "Do wonders," Timidity said "Do nothing that you have not seen other wives do." So she remained, scheming, and longing, and fearing, and passive, all day. But the next day she conceived a vague idea, and, all in a heat, rang for her maid. While the maid was coming she fell to blushing at her own boldness, and, just as the maid opened the door, her thermometer fell so low that--she sent her upstairs for a piece of work. Oh, lame and impotent conclusion!

Just before luncheon she chanced to look through a window, and to see the head gamekeeper crossing the park, and coming to the house. Now this was the very man she wanted to speak to. The sudden temptation surprised her out of her timidity. She rang the bell again, and sent for the man.

That Colossus wondered in his mind, and felt uneasy at an invitation so novel. However, he clattered into the morning-room, in his velveteen coat, and leathern gaiters up to his thigh, pulled his front hair, bobbed his head, and then stood firm in body as was he of Rhodes, but in mind much abashed at finding himself in her ladyship's presence.

The lady, however, did not prove so very terrible. "May I inquire your name, sir?" said she, very respectfully.

"Moses Moss, my lady."

"Mr. Moss, I wish to ask you a question or two. May I?"

"That you may, my lady."

"I want you to explain, if you will be so good, how the proprietor of 'Splatchett's' can shoot all Sir Charles's pheasants."

"Lord! my lady, we ain't come down to that. But he do shoot more than his share, that's sure an' sartain. Well, my lady, if you please, game is just like Christians: it will make for sunny spots. Highmore has got a many of them there, with good cover; so we breeds for him. As for 'Splatchett's,' that don't hurt we, my lady; it is all arable land and dead hedges, with no bottom; only there's one little tongue of it runs into North Wood, and planted with larch; and, if you please, my lady, there is always a kind of coarse grass grows under young larches, and makes a strong cover for game. So, beat North Wood which way you will, them artful old cocks will run ahead of ye, or double back into them larches. And you see Mr. Bassett is not a gentleman, like Sir Charles; he is always a-mouching about, and the biggest poacher in the parish; and so he drops on to 'em out of bounds."

"Is there no way of stopping all this, sir?"

"We might station a dozen beaters ahead. They would most likely get shot; but I don't think as they'd mind that much if you had set your heart on it, my lady. Dall'd if I would, for one."

"Oh, Mr. Moss! Heaven forbid that any man should be shot for me. No, not for all the pheasants in the world. I'll try and think of some other way. I should like to see the place. May I?"

"Yes, my lady, and welcome."

"How shall I get to it, sir?"

"You can ride to the 'Woodman's Rest,' my lady, and it is scarce a stone's-throw from there; but 'tis baddish traveling for the likes of you."

She appointed an hour, rode with her groom to the public-house, and thence was conducted through bush, through brier, to the place where her husband had been so annoyed.

Moss's comments became very intelligible to her the moment she saw the place. She said very little, however, and rode home.

Next day she blushed high, and asked Sir Charles for a hundred pounds to spend upon herself.

Sir Charles smiled, well pleased, and gave it her, and a kiss into the bargain.

"Ah! but," said she, "that is not all."

"I am glad of it. You spend too little money on yourself--a great deal too little."

"That is a complaint you won't have long to make. I want to cut down a few trees. May I?"

"Going to build?"

"Don't ask me. It is for myself."

"That is enough. Cut down every stick on the estate if you like. The barer it leaves us the better."

"Ah, Charles, you promised me not. I shall cut with great discretion, I assure you."

"As you please," said Sir Charles. "If you want to make me happy, deny yourself nothing. Mind, I shall be angry if you do."

Soon after this a gaping quidnunc came to Sir Charles and told him Lady Bassett was felling trees in North Wood.

"And pray who has a better right to fell trees in any wood of mine?"

"But she is building a wall."

"And who has a better right to build a wall?"

With the delicacy of a gentleman he would not go near the place after this till she asked him; and that was not long, She came into his study, all beaming, and invited him to a ride. She took him into North Wood, and showed him her work. Richard Bassett's plantation, hitherto divided from North Wood only by a boundary scarcely visible, was now shut off by a brick wall: on Sir Charles's side of that wall every stick of timber was felled and removed for a distance of fifty yards, and about twenty yards from the wall a belt of larches was planted, a little higher than cabbages.

Sir Charles looked amazed at first, but soon observed how thoroughly his enemy was defeated. "My poor Bella," said he, "to think of your taking all this trouble about such a thing!" He stopped to kiss her very tenderly, and she shone with joy and innocent pride. "And I never thought of this! You astonish me, Bella."

"Ay," said she, in high spirits now; "and, what is more, I have astonished Mr. Moss. He said, 'I wish I had your head-piece, my lady.' I could have told him Love sharpens a woman's wits; but I reserved that little adage for you."

"It's all mighty fine, fair lady, but you have told me a fib. You said it was to be all for yourself, and got a hundred pounds out of me."

"And so it was for myself, you silly thing. Are you not myself? and the part of myself I love the best?" And her supple wrist was round his neck in a moment.

They rode home together, like lovers, and comforted each other.


Richard Bassett, with Wheeler's assistance, had borrowed money on Highmore to buy "Splatchett's"; he now borrowed money on "Splatchett's," and bought Dean's Wood--a wood, with patches of grass, that lay on the east of Sir Charles's boundary. He gave seventeen hundred pounds for it, and sold two thousand pounds' worth of timber off it the first year. This sounds incredible; but, owing to the custom of felling only ripe trees, landed proprietors had no sure clew to the value of all the timber on an acre. Richard Bassett had found this out, and bought Dean's Wood upon the above terms--i.e., the vender gave him the soil and three hundred pounds gratis. He grubbed the roots and sold them for fuel, and planted larches to catch the overflow of Sir Charles's game. The grass grew beautifully, now the trees were down, and he let it for pasture.

He then, still under Wheeler's advice, came out into the world again, improved his dress, and called on several county families, with a view to marrying money.

Now in the country they do not despise a poor gentleman of good lineage, and Bassett was one of the oldest names in the county; so every door was open to him; and, indeed, his late hermit life had stimulated some curiosity. This he soon turned to sympathy, by telling them that he was proud but poor. Robbed of the vast estates that belonged to him by birth, he had been unwilling to take a lower position. However, Heaven had prospered him; the wrongful heir was childless; he was the heir at law, and felt he owed it to the estate, which must return to his line, to assume a little more public importance than he had done.

Wherever he was received he was sure to enlarge upon his wrongs; and he was believed; for he was notoriously the direct heir to Bassett and Huntercombe, but the family arrangement by which his father had been bought out was known only to a few. He readily obtained sympathy, and many persons were disgusted at Sir Charles's illiberality in not making him some compensation. To use the homely expression of Govett, a small proprietor, the baronet might as well have given him back one pig out of his own farrow--i.e., one of the many farms comprised in that large estate.

Sir Charles learned that Richard was undermining him in the county, but was too proud to interfere; he told Lady Bassett he should say nothing until some gentleman should indorse Mr. Bassett's falsehoods.

One day Sir Charles and Lady Bassett were invited to dine and sleep at Mr. Hardwicke's, distance fifteen miles; they went, and found Richard Bassett dining there, by Mrs. Hardwicke's invitation, who was one of those ninnies that fling guests together with no discrimination.

Richard had expected this to happen sooner or later, so he was comparatively prepared, and bowed stiffly to Sir Charles. Sir Charles stared at him in return. This was observed. People were uncomfortable, especially Mrs. Hardwicke, whose thoughtlessness was to blame for it all.

At a very early hour Sir Charles ordered his carriage, and drove home, instead of staying all night.

Mrs. Hardwicke, being a fool, must make a little more mischief. She blubbered to her husband, and he wrote Sir Charles a remonstrance.

Sir Charles replied that he was the only person aggrieved; Mr. Hardwicke ought not to have invited a blackguard to meet him.

Mr. Hardwicke replied that he had never heard a Bassett called a blackguard before, and had seen nothing in Mr. Bassett to justify an epithet so unusual among gentlemen. "And, to be frank with you, Sir Charles," said he, "I think this bitterness against a poor gentleman, whose estates you are so fortunate as to possess, is not consistent with your general character, and is, indeed, unworthy of you."

To this Sir Charles Bassett replied:


"DEAR MR. HARDWICK--You have applied some remarks to me which I will endeavor to forget, as they were written in entire ignorance of the truth. But if we are to remain friends, I expect you to believe me when I tell you that Mr. Richard Bassett has never been wronged by me or mine, but has wronged me and Lady Bassett deeply. He is a dishonorable scoundrel, not entitled to be received in society; and if, after this assurance, you receive him, I shall never darken your doors again. So please let me know your decision.

"I remain

"Yours truly,



Mr. Hardwicke chafed under this; but Prudence stepped in. He was one of the county members, and Sir Charles could command three hundred votes.

He wrote back to say he had received Sir Charles's letter with pain, but, of course, he could not disbelieve him, and therefore he should invite Mr. Bassett no more till the matter was cleared.

But Mr. Hardwicke, thus brought to book, was nettled at his own meanness; so he sent Sir Charles's letter to Mr. Richard Bassett.

Bassett foamed with rage, and wrote a long letter, raving with insults, to Sir Charles.

He was in the act of directing it when Wheeler called on him. Bassett showed him Sir Charles's letter. Wheeler read it.

"Now read what I say to him in reply."

Wheeler read Bassett's letter, threw it into the fire, and kept it there with the poker.

"Lucky I called," said he, dryly. "Saved you a thousand pounds or so. You must not write a letter without me."

"What, am I to sit still and be insulted? You're a pretty friend."

"I am a wise friend. This is a more serious matter than you seem to think."


"Of course. Why, if Sir Charles had consulted me, I could not have dictated a better letter. It closes every chink a defendant in libel can creep out by. Now take your pen and write to Mr. Hardwicke."


"DEAR SIR--I have received your letter, containing a libel written by Sir Charles Bassett. My reply will be public.

"Yours very truly,



"Is that all?"

"Every syllable. Now mind; you never go to Hardwicke House again; Sir Charles has got you banished from that house; special damage! There never was a prettier case for a jury--the rightful heir foully slandered by the possessor of his hereditary estates."

This picture excited Bassett, and he walked about raving with malice, and longing for the time when he should stand in the witness-box and denounce his enemy.

"No, no," said Wheeler, "leave that to counsel; you must play the mild victim in the witness-box. Who is the defendant solicitor? We ought to serve the writ on him at once."

"No, no; serve it on himself."

"What for? Much better proceed like gentlemen."

Bassett got in a passion at being contradicted in everything. "I tell you," said he, "the more I can irritate and exasperate this villain the better. Besides, he slandered me behind my back; and I'll have the writ served upon himself. I'll do everything I can to take him down. If a man wants to be my lawyer he must enter into my feelings a little."

Wheeler, to whom he was more valuable than ever now, consented somewhat reluctantly, and called at Huntercombe Hall next day with the writ, and sent in his card.

Lady Bassett heard of this, and asked if it was Mr. Bassett's friend.

The butler said he thought it was.

Lady Bassett went to Sir Charles in his study. "Oh, my dear," said she, "here is Mr. Bassett's lawyer."


"Why does he come here?"

"I don't know."

"Don't see him."

"Why not?"

"I am so afraid of Mr. Bassett. He is our evil genius. Let me see this person instead of you. May I?"

"Certainly not."

"Might I see him first, love?"

"You will not see him at all."


"No, Bella; I cannot have these animals talking to my wife."

"But, dear love, I am so full of forebodings. You know, Charles, I don't often presume to meddle; but I am in torture about this man. If you receive him, may I be with you? Then we shall be two to one."

"No, no," said Sir Charles, testily. Then, seeing her beautiful eyes fill at the refusal and the unusual tone, he relented. "You may be in hearing if you like. Open that door, and sit in the little room."

"Oh, thank you!"

She stepped into the room--a very small sitting-room. She had never been in it before, and while she was examining it, and thinking how she could improve its appearance, Mr. Wheeler was shown into the study. Sir Charles received him standing, to intimate that the interview must be brief. This, and the time he had been kept waiting in the hall, roused Wheeler's bile, and he entered on his subject more bruskly than he had intended.

"Sir Charles Bassett, you wrote a letter to Mr. Hardwicke, reflecting on my client, Mr. Bassett--a most unjustifiable letter."

"Keep your opinion to yourself, sir. I wrote a letter, calling him what he is."

"No, sir; that letter is a libel."

"It is the truth."

"It is a malicious libel, sir; and we shall punish you for it. I hereby serve you with this copy of a writ. Damages, five thousand pounds."

A sigh from the next room passed unnoticed by the men, for their voices were now raised in anger.

"And so that is what you came here for. Why did you not go to my solicitor? You must be as great a blackguard as your client, to serve your paltry writs on me in my own house."

"Not blackguard enough to insult a gentleman in my own house. If you had been civil I might have accommodated matters; but now I'll make you smart--ugh!"

Nothing provokes a high-spirited man more than a menace. Sir Charles, threatened in his wife's hearing, shot out his right arm with surprising force and rapidity, and knocked Wheeler down in a moment.

In came Lady Bassett, with a scream, and saw the attorney lying doubled up, and Sir Charles standing over him, blowing like a grampus with rage and excitement.

But the next moment be staggered and gasped, and she had to support him to a seat. She rang the bell for aid, then kneeled, and took his throbbing temples to her wifely bosom.

Wheeler picked himself up, and, seated on his hams, eyed the pair with concentrated fury.

"Aha! You have hurt yourself more than me. Two suits against you now instead of one."

"Conduct this person from the house," said Lady Bassett to a servant who entered at that moment.

"All right, my lady," said Wheeler; "I'll remind you of that word when this house belongs to us."


WITH this bitter reply Wheeler retired precipitately; the shaft pierced but one bosom; for the devoted wife, with the swift ingenuity of woman's love, had put both her hands right over her husband's ears that he might hear no more insults.

Sir Charles very nearly had a fit; but his wife loosened his neckcloth, caressed his throbbing head, and applied eau-de-Cologne to his nostrils. He got better, but felt dizzy for about an hour. She made him come into her room and lie down; she hung over him, curling as a vine and light as a bird, and her kisses lit softly as down upon his eyes, and her words of love and pity murmured music in his ears till he slept, and that danger passed.

For a day or two after this both Sir Charles and Lady Bassett avoided the unpleasant subject. But it had to be faced; so Mr. Oldfield was summoned to Huntercombe, and all engagements given up for the day, that he might dine alone with them and talk the matter over.

Sir Charles thought he could justify; but when it came to the point he could only prove that Richard had done several ungentleman-like things of a nature a stout jury would consider trifles.

Mr. Oldfield said of course they must enter an appearance; and, this done, the wisest course would be to let him see Wheeler, and try to compromise the suit. "It will cost you a thousand pounds, Sir Charles, I dare say; but if it teaches you never to write of an enemy or to an enemy without showing your lawyer the letter first, the lesson will be cheap. Somebody in the Bible says, 'Oh, that mine enemy would write a book!' I say, 'Oh, that he would write a letter--without consulting his solicitor."

It was Lady Bassett's cue now to make light of troubles. "What does it matter, Mr. Oldfield? All they want is money. Yes, offer them a thousand pounds to leave him in peace."

So next day Mr. Oldfield called on Wheeler, all smiles and civility, and asked him if he did not think it a pity cousins should quarrel before the whole county.

"A great pity," said Wheeler. "But my client has no alternative. No gentleman in the county would speak to him if he sat quiet under such contumely."

After beating about the bush the usual time, Oldfield said that Sir Charles was hungry for litigation, but that Lady Bassett was averse to it. "In short, Mr. Wheeler, I will try and get Mr. Bassett a thousand pounds to forego this scandal."

"I will consult him, and let you know," said Wheeler. "He happens to be in the town."

Oldfield called again in an hour. Wheeler told him a thousand pounds would be accepted, with a written apology.

Oldfield shook his head. "Sir Charles will never write an apology: right or wrong, he is too sincere in his conviction."

"He will never get a jury to share it."

"You must not be too sure of that. You don't know the defense."

Oldfield said this with a gravity which did him credit.

"Do you know it yourself?" said the other keen hand.

Mr. Oldfield smiled haughtily, but said nothing. Wheeler had hit the mark.

"By the by," said the latter, "there is another little matter. Sir Charles assaulted me for doing my duty to my client. I mean to sue him. Here is the writ; will you accept service?"

"Oh, certainly, Mr. Wheeler and I am glad to find you do not make a habit of serving writs on gentlemen in person."

"Of course not. I did it on a single occasion, contrary to my own wish, and went in person--to soften the blow--instead of sending my clerk."

After this little spar, the two artists in law bade each other farewell with every demonstration of civility.

Sir Charles would not apologize.

The plaintiff filed his declaration.

The defendant pleaded not guilty, but did not disclose a defense. The law allows a defendant in libel this advantage.

Plaintiff joined issue, and the trial was set down for the next assizes.

Sir Charles was irritated, but nothing more. Lady Bassett, with a woman's natural shrinking from publicity, felt it more deeply. She would have given thousands of her own money to keep the matter out of court. But her very terror of Richard Bassett restrained her. She was always thinking about him, and had convinced herself he was the ablest villain in the wide world; and she thought to herself, "If, with his small means, he annoys Charles so, what would he do if I were to enrich him? He would crush us."

As the trial drew near she began to hover about Sir Charles in his study, like an anxious hen. The maternal yearnings were awakened in her by marriage, and she had no child; so her Charles in trouble was husband and child.

Sometimes she would come in and just kiss his forehead, and run out again, casting back a celestial look of love at the door, and, though it was her husband she had kissed, she blushed divinely. At last one day she crept in and said, very timidly, "Charles dear, the anonymous letter--is not that an excuse for libeling him--as they call telling the truth?"

"Why, of course it is. Have you got it?"

"Dearest, the brave lady took it away."

"The brave lady! Who is that?"

"Why, the lady that came with Mr. Oldfield and pleaded your cause with papa--oh, so eloquently! Sometimes when I think of it now I feel almost jealous. Who is she?"

"From what you have always told me, I think it was the Sister of Charity who nursed me."

"You silly thing, she was no Sister of Charity; that was only put on. Charles, tell me the truth. What does it matter now? It was some lady who loved you."

"Loved me, and set her wits to work to marry me to you?"

"Women's love is so disinterested--sometimes."

"No, no; she told me she was a sister of--, and no doubt that is the truth."

"A sister of whom?"

"No matter: don't remind me of the past; it is odious to me; and, on second thoughts, rather than stir up all that mud, it would be better not to use the anonymous letter, even if you could get it again."

Lady Bassett begged him to take advice on that; meantime she would try to get the letter, and also the evidence that Richard Bassett wrote it.

"I see no harm in that," said Sir Charles; "only confine your communication to Mr. Oldfield. I will not have you speaking or writing to a woman I don't know: and the more I think of her conduct the less I understand it."

"There are people who do good by stealth," suggested Bella timidly.

"Fiddledeedee!" replied Sir Charles; "you are a goose--I mean an angel."

Lady Bassett complied with the letter, but, goose or not, evaded the spirit of Sir Charles's command with considerable dexterity.


"DEAR MR. OLDFIELD--You may guess what trouble I am in. Sir Charles will soon have to appear in open court, and be talked against by some great orator. That anonymous letter Mr. Bassett wrote me was very base, and is surely some justification of the violent epithets my dear husband, in an unhappy moment of irritation, has applied to him. The brave lady has it. I am sure she will not refuse to send it me. I wish I dare ask her to give it me with her own hand; but I must not, I suppose. Pray tell her how unhappy I am, and perhaps she will favor us with a word of advice as well as the letter.

"I remain, yours faithfully,



This letter was written at the brave lady; and Mr. Oldfield did what was expected, he sent Miss Somerset a copy of Lady Bassett's letter, and some lines in his own hand, describing Sir Charles's difficulty in a more businesslike way.

In due course Miss Somerset wrote him back that she was in the country, hunting, at no very great distance from Huntercombe Hall; she would sent up to town for her desk; the letter would be there, if she had kept it at all.

Oldfield groaned at this cool conjecture, and wrote back directly, urging expedition.

This produced an effect that he had not anticipated.

One morning Lord Harrowdale's foxhounds met at a large covert, about five miles from Huntercombe, and Sir Charles told Lady Bassett she must ride to cover.

"Yes, dear. Charles, love, I have no spirit to appear in public. We shall soon have publicity enough."

"That is my reason. I have not done nor said anything I am ashamed of, and you will meet the county on this and on every public occasion."

"I obey," said Bella.

"And look your best."

"I will, dearest."

"And be in good spirits."

"Must I?"


"I will try. Oh!--oh!--oh!"

"Why, you poor-spirited little goose! Dry your eyes this moment."

"There. Oh!"

"And kiss me."

"There. Ah! kissing you is a great comfort."

"It is one you are particularly welcome to. Now run away and put on your habit. I'll have two grooms out; one with a fresh horse for me, and one to look after you."

"Oh, Charles! Pray don't make me hunt."

"No, no. Not so tyrannical as that; hang it all!"

"Do you know what I do while you are hunting? I pray all the time that you may not get a fall and be hurt; and I pray God to forgive you and all the gentlemen for your cruelty in galloping with all those dogs after one poor little inoffensive thing, to hunt it and kill it--kill it twice, indeed; once with terror, and then over again with mangling its poor little body."

"This is cheerful," said Sir Charles, rather ruefully. "We cannot all be angels, like you. It is a glorious excitement. There! you are too good for this world; I'll let you off going."

"Oh no, dear. I won't be let off, now I know your wish. Only I beg to ride home as soon as the poor thing runs away. You wouldn't get me out of the thick covers if I were a fox. I'd run round and round, and call on all my acquaintances to set them running."

As she said this her eyes turned toward each other in a peculiar way, and she looked extremely foxy; but the look melted away directly.

The hounds met, and Lady Bassett, who was still the beauty of the county, was surrounded by riders at first; but as the hounds began to work, and every now and then a young hound uttered a note, they cantered about, and took up different posts, as experience suggested.

At last a fox was found at the other end of the cover, and away galloped the hunters in that direction, all but four persons, Lady Bassett, and her groom, who kept respectfully aloof, and a lady and gentleman who had reined their horses up on a rising ground about a furlong distant.

Lady Bassett, thus left alone, happened to look round, and saw the lady level an opera-glass toward her and look through it.

As a result of this inspection the lady cantered toward her. She was on a chestnut gelding of great height and bone, and rode him as if they were one, so smoothly did she move in concert with his easy, magnificent strides.

When she came near Lady Bassett she made a little sweep and drew up beside her on the grass.

There was no mistaking that tall figure and commanding face. It was the brave lady. Her eyes sparkled; her cheek was slightly colored with excitement; she looked healthier and handsomer than ever, and also more feminine, for a reason the sagacious reader may perhaps discern if he attends to the dialogue.

"So," said she, without bowing or any other ceremony, "that little rascal is troubling you again."

Lady Bassett colored and panted, and looked lovingly at her, before she could speak. At last she said, "Yes; and you have come to help us again."

"Well, the lawyer said there was no time to lose; so I have brought you the anonymous letter."

"Oh, thank you, madam, thank you."

"But I'm afraid it will be of no use unless you can prove Mr. Bassett wrote it. It is in a disguised hand."

"But you found him out by means of another letter."

"Yes; but I can't give you that other letter to have it read in a court of law, because-- Do you see that gentleman there?"


"That is Marsh."

"Oh, is it?"

"He is a fool; but I am going to marry him. I have been very ill since I saw you, and poor Marsh nursed me. Talk of women nurses! If ever you are ill in earnest, as I was, write to me, and I'll send you Marsh. Oh, I have no words to tell you his patience, his forbearance, his watchfulness, his tenderness to a sick woman. It is no use--I must marry him; and I could have no letter published that would give him pain."

"Of course not. Oh, madam, do you think I am capable of doing anything that would give you pain, or dear Mr. Marsh either?"

"No, no; you are a good woman."

"Not half so good as you are."

"You don't know what you are saying."

"Oh yes, I do."

"Then I say no more; it is rude to contradict. Good-by, Lady Bassett."

"Must you leave me so soon? Will you not visit us? May I not know the name of so good a friend?"

"Next week I shall be Mrs. Marsh."

"And you will give me the great pleasure of having you at my house--you and your husband?"

The lady showed some agitation at this--an unusual thing for her. She faltered: "Some day, perhaps, if I make him as good a wife as I hope to. What a lady you are! Vulgar people are ashamed to be grateful; but you are a born lady. Good-by, before I make a fool of myself; and they are all coming this way, by the dogs' music."

"Won't you kiss me, after bringing me this?"

"Kiss you?" and she opened her eyes.

"If you please," said Lady Bassett, bending toward her, with eyes full of gratitude and tenderness.

Then the other woman took her by the shoulders, and plunged her great gray orbs into Bella's.

They kissed each other.

At that contact the stranger seemed to change her character all in a moment. She strained Bella to her bosom and kissed her passionately, and sobbed out, wildly, "O God! you are good to sinners. This is the happiest hour of my life--it is a forerunner. Bless you, sweet dove of innocence! You will be none the worse, and I am all the better-- Ah! Sir Charles. Not one word about me to him."

And with these words, uttered with sudden energy, she spurred her great horse, leaped the ditch, and burst through the dead hedge into the wood, and winded out of sight among the trees.

Sir Charles came up astonished. "Why, who was that?"

Bella's eyes began to rove, as I have before described; but she replied pretty promptly, "The brave lady herself; she brought me the anonymous letter for your defense."

"Why, how came she to know about it?"

"She did not tell me that. She was in a great hurry. Her fiancé was waiting for her."

"Was it necessary to kiss her in the hunting-field?" said Sir Charles, with something very like a frown.

"I'd kiss the whole field, grooms and all, if they did you a great service, as that dear lady has," said Bella. The words were brave, but the accent piteous.

"You are excited, Bella. You had better ride home," said Sir Charles, gently enough, but moodily.

"Thank you, Charles," said Bella, glad to escape further examination about this mysterious lady. She rode home accordingly. There she found Mr. Oldfield, and showed him the anonymous letter.

He read it, and said it was a defense, but a disagreeable one. "Suppose he says he wrote it, and the facts were true?"

"But I don't think he will confess it. He is not a gentleman. He is very untruthful. Can we not make this a trap to catch him, sir? He has no scruples."

Oldfield looked at her in some surprise at her depth.

"We must get hold of his handwriting," said he. "We must ransack the local banks; find his correspondents."

"Leave all that to me," said Lady Bassett, in a low voice.

Mr. Oldfield thought he might as well please a beautiful and loving woman, if he could; so he gave her something to do for her husband. "Very well; collect all the materials of comparison you can--letters, receipts, etc. Meantime I will retain the two principal experts in London, and we will submit your materials to them the night before the trial."

Lady Bassett, thus instructed, drove to all the banks, but found no clerk acquainted with Mr. Bassett's handwriting. He did not bank with anybody in the county.

She called on several persons she thought likely to possess letters or other writings of Richard Bassett. Not a scrap.

Then she began to fear. The case looked desperate.

Then she began to think. And she thought very hard indeed, especially at night.

In the dead of night she had an idea. She got up, and stole from her husband's side, and studied the anonymous letter.

Next day she sat down with the anonymous letter on her desk, and blushed, and trembled, and looked about like some wild animal scared. She selected from the anonymous letter several words--"character, abused, Sir, Charles, Bassett, lady, abandoned, friend, whether, ten, slanderer" etc.--and wrote them on a slip of paper. Then she locked up the anonymous letter. Then she locked the door. Then she sat down to a sheet of paper, and, after some more wild and furtive glances all around, she gave her whole mind to writing a letter.

And to whom did she write, think you?

To Richard Bassett.


"MR. BASSETT--I am sure both yourself and my husband will suffer in public estimation, unless some friend comes between you, and this unhappy lawsuit is given up.

"Do not think me blind nor presumptuous; Sir Charles, when he wrote that letter, had reason to believe you had done him a deep injury by unfair means. Many will share that opinion if this cause is tried. You are his cousin, and his heir at law. I dread to see an unhappy feud inflamed by a public trial. Is there no personal sacrifice by which I can compensate the affront you have received, without compromising Sir Charles Bassett's veracity, who is the soul of honor?

"I am, yours obediently,



She posted this letter, and Richard Bassett had no sooner received it than he mounted his horse and rode to Wheeler's with it.

That worthy's eyes sparkled. "Capital!" said he. "We must draw her on, and write an answer that will read well in court."

He concocted an epistle just the opposite of what Richard Bassett, left to himself, would have written. Bassett copied, and sent it as his own.


"LADY BASSETT--I thank you for writing to me at this moment, when I am weighed down by slander. Your own character stands so high that you would not deign to write to me if you believed the abuse that has been lavished on me. With you I deplore this family feud. It is not of my seeking; and as for this lawsuit, it is one in which the plaintiff is really the defendant. Sir Charles has written a defamatory letter, which has closed every house in this county to his victim. If, as I now feel sure, you disapprove the libel, pray persuade him to retract it. The rest our lawyers can settle,

"Yours very respectfully,



When Lady Bassett read this, she saw she had an adroit opponent. Yet she wrote again:


"MR. BASSETT--There are limits to my influence with Sir Charles. I have no power to make him say one word against his convictions.

"But my lawyer tells me you seek pecuniary compensation for an affront. I offer you, out of my own means, which are ample, that which you seek--offer it freely and heartily; and I honestly think you had better receive it from me than expose yourself to the risks and mortifications of a public trial.

"I am, yours obediently,



"LADY BASSETT--You have fallen into a very natural error. It is true I sue Sir Charles Bassett for money; but that is only because the law allows me my remedy in no other form. What really brings me into court is the defense of my injured honor. How do you meet me? You say, virtually, 'Never mind your character: here is money.' Permit me to decline it on such terms.

"A public insult cannot be cured in private.

"Strong in my innocence, and my wrongs, I court what you call the risks of a public trial.

"Whatever the result, you have played the honorable and womanly part of peacemaker; and it is unfortunate for your husband that your gentle influence is limited by his vanity, which perseveres in a cruel slander, instead of retracting it while there is yet time.

"I am, madam, yours obediently,



"MR. BASSETT--I retire from a correspondence which appears to be useless, and might, if prolonged, draw some bitter remark from me, as it has from you.

"After the trial, which you court and I deprecate, you will perhaps review my letters with a more friendly eye.

"I am, yours obediently,



In this fencing-match between a lawyer and a lady each gained an advantage. The lawyer's letters, as might have been expected, were the best adapted to be read to a jury; but the lady, subtler in her way, obtained, at a small sacrifice, what she wanted, and that without raising the slightest suspicion of her true motive in the correspondence.

She announced her success to Mr. Oldfield; but, in the midst of it, she quaked with terror at the thought of what Sir Charles would say to her for writing to Mr. Bassett at all.

She now, with the changeableness of her sex, hoped and prayed Mr. Bassett would admit the anonymous letter, and so all her subtlety and pains prove superfluous.

Quaking secretly, but with a lovely face and serene front, she took her place at the assizes, before the judge, and got as near him as she could.

The court was crowded, and many ladies present.

Bassett v. Bassett was called in a loud voice; there was a hum of excitement, then a silence of expectation, and the plaintiff's counsel rose to address the jury.


"MAY it please your Lordship: Gentlemen of the Jury--The plaintiff in this case is Richard Bassett, Esquire, the direct and lineal representative of that old and honorable family, whose monuments are to be seen in several churches in this county, and whose estates are the largest, I believe, in the county. He would have succeeded, as a matter of course, to those estates, but for an arrangement made only a year before he was born, by which, contrary to nature and justice, he was denuded of those estates, and they passed to the defendant. The defendant is nowise to blame for that piece of injustice; but he profits by it, and it might be expected that his good fortune would soften his heart toward his unfortunate relative. I say that if uncommon tenderness might be expected to be shown by anybody to this deserving and unfortunate gentleman, it would be by Sir Charles Bassett, who enjoys his cousin's ancestral estates, and can so well appreciate what that cousin has lost by no fault of his own."

"Hear! hear!"

"Silence in the court!"

The Judge.--I must request that there may be no manifestation of feeling.

Counsel.--I will endeavor to provoke none, my lord. It is a very simple case, and I shall not occupy you long. Well, gentlemen, Mr. Bassett is a poor man, by no fault of his; but if he is poor, he is proud and honorable. He has met the frowns of fortune like a gentleman--like a man. He has not solicited government for a place. He has not whined nor lamented. He has dignified unmerited poverty by prudence and self-denial; and, unable to forget that he is a Bassett, he has put by a little money every year, and bought a small estate or two, and had even applied to the Lord-Lieutenant to make him a justice of the peace, when a most severe and unexpected blow fell upon him. Among those large proprietors who respected him in spite of his humbler circumstances was Mr. Hardwicke, one of the county members. Well, gentlemen, on the 21st of last May Mr. Bassett received a letter from Mr. Hardwicke inclosing one purporting to be from Sir Charles Bassett--

The Judge.--Does Sir Charles Bassett admit the letter?

Defendant's Counsel (after a word with Oldfield).--Yes, my lord.

Plaintiff's Counsel.--A letter admitted to be written by Sir Charles Bassett. That letter shall be read to you.

The letter was then read.

The counsel resumed: "Conceive, if you can, the effect of this blow, just as my unhappy and most deserving client was rising a little in the world. I shall prove that it excluded him from Mr. Hardwicke's house, and other houses too. He is a man of too much importance to risk affronts. He has never entered the door of any gentleman in this county since his powerful relative published this cruel libel. He has drawn his Spartan cloak around him, and he awaits your verdict to resume that place among you which is due to him in every way--due to him as the heir in direct line to the wealth, and, above all, to the honor of the Bassetts; due to him as Sir Charles Bassett's heir at law; and due to him on account of the decency and fortitude with which he has borne adversity, and with which he now repels foul-mouthed slander."

"Hear! hear!"

"Silence in the court!"

"I have done, gentlemen, for the present. Indeed, eloquence, even if I possessed it, would be superfluous; the facts speak for themselves.--Call James Hardwicke, Esq."

Mr. Hardwicke proved the receipt of the letter from Sir Charles, and that he had sent it to Mr. Bassett; and that Mr. Bassett had not entered his house since then, nor had he invited him.

Mr. Bassett was then called, and, being duly trained by Wheeler, abstained from all heat, and wore an air of dignified dejection. His counsel examined him, and his replies bore out the opening statement. Everybody thought him sure of a verdict.

He was then cross-examined. Defendant's counsel pressed him about his unfair way of shooting. The judge interfered, and said that was trifling. If there was no substantial defense, why not settle the matter?

"There is a defense, my lord."

"Then it is time you disclosed it."

"Very well, my lord. Mr. Bassett, did you ever write an anonymous letter?"

"Not that I remember."

"Oh, that appears to you a trifle. It is not so considered."

The Judge.--Be more particular in your question.

"I will, my lord.--Did you ever write an anonymous letter, to make mischief between Sir Charles and Lady Bassett?"

"Never," said the witness; but he turned pale.

"Do you mean to say you did not write this letter to Miss Bruce? Look at the letter, Mr. Bassett, before you reply."

Bassett cast one swift glance of agony at Wheeler; then braced himself like iron. He examined the letter attentively, turned it over, lived an age, and said it was not his writing.

"Do you swear that?"


Defendant's Counsel.--I shall ask your lordship to take down that reply. If persisted in, my client will indict the witness for perjury.

Plaintiff's Counsel.--Don't threaten the witness as well as insult him, please.

The Judge.--He is an educated man, and knows the duty he owes to God and the defendant.--Take time, Mr. Bassett, and recollect. Did you write that letter?"

"No, my lord."

Counsel waited for the judge to note the reply, then proceeded.

"You have lately corresponded with Lady Bassett, I think?"

"Yes. Her ladyship opened a correspondence with me."

"It is a lie!" roared Sir Charles Bassett from the door of the grand jury room.

"Silence in the court!"

The Judge.--Who made that unseemly remark?

Sir Charles.--I did, my lord. My wife never corresponded with the cur.

The Plaintiff.--It is only one insult more, gentlemen, and as false as the rest. Permit me, my lord. My own counsel would never have put the question. I would not, for the world, give Lady Bassett pain; but Sir Charles and his counsel have extorted the truth from me. Her ladyship did open a correspondence with me, and a friendly one.

The Plaintiff's Counsel.--Will your lordship ask whether that was after the defendant had written the libel?

The question was put, and answered in the affirmative.

Lady Bassett hid her face in her hands. Sir Charles saw the movement, and groaned aloud.

The Judge.--I beg the case may not be encumbered with irrelevant matter.

Counsel replied that the correspondence would be made evidence in the case. (To the witness.)--You wrote this letter to Lady Bassett?"


"And every word in it?"

"And every word in it," faltered Bassett, now ashy pale, for he began to see the trap.

"Then you wrote this word 'character,' and this word 'injured,' and this word--"

The Judge (peevishly).--He tells you he wrote every word in those letters to Lady Bassett.-- What more would you have?

Counsel.--If your lordship will be good enough to examine the correspondence, and compare those words in it I have underlined with the same words in the anonymous letter, you will perhaps find I know my business better than you seem to think. (The counsel who ventured on this remonstrance was a sergeant.)

"Brother Eitherside," said the judge, with a charming manner, "you satisfied me of that, to my cost, long ago, whenever I had you against me in a case. Please hand me the letters."

While the judge was making a keen comparison, counsel continued the cross-examination.

"You are aware that this letter caused a separation between Sir Charles Bassett and the lady he was engaged to?"

"I know nothing about it."

"Indeed! Well, were you acquainted with the Miss Somerset mentioned in this letter?"


"You have been at her house?"

"Once or twice."

"Which? Twice is double as often as once, you know."


"No more?"

"Not that I recollect."

"You wrote to her?"

"I may have."

"Did you, or did you not?"

"I did."

"What was the purport of that letter?"

"I can't recollect at this distance of time."

"On your oath, sir, did you not write urging her to co-operate with you to keep Sir Charles Bassett from marrying his affianced, Miss Bella Bruce, to whom that anonymous letter was written with the same object?"

The perspiration now rolled in visible drops down the tortured liar's face. Yet still, by a gigantic effort, he stood firm, and even planted a blow.

"I did not write the anonymous letter. But I believe I told Miss Somerset I loved Miss Bruce, and that her lover was robbing me of mine, as he had robbed me of everything else."

"And that was all you said--on your oath?"

"All I can recollect." With this the strong man, cowed, terrified, expecting his letter to Somerset to be produced, and so the iron chain of evidence completed, gasped out, "Man, you tear open all my wounds at once!" and with this burst out sobbing, and lamenting aloud that he had ever been born.

Counsel waited calmly till he should be in a condition to receive another dose.

"Oh, will nobody stop this cruel trial?" said Lady Bassett, with the tears trickling down her face.

The judge heard this remark without seeming to do so.

He said to defendant's counsel, "Whatever the truth may be, you have proved enough to show Sir Charles Bassett might well have an honest conviction that Mr. Bassett had done a dastardly act. Whether a jury would ever agree on a question of handwriting must always be doubtful. Looking at the relationship of the parties, is it advisable to carry this matter further? If I might advise the gentlemen, they would each consent to withdraw a juror."

Upon this suggestion the counsel for both parties put their heads together in animated whispers; and during this the judge made a remark to the jury, intended for the public: "Since Lady Bassett's name has been drawn into this, I must say that I have read her letters to Mr. Bassett, and they are such as she could write without in the least compromising her husband. Indeed, now the defense is disclosed, they appear to me to be wise and kindly letters, such as only a good wife, a high-bred lady, and a true Christian could write in so delicate a matter."

Plaintiff's Counsel.--My lord, we are agreed to withdraw a juror.

Defendant's Counsel.--Out of respect for your lordship's advice, and not from any doubt of the result on our part.


And so the car of justice rolled on till it came to Wheeler v. Bassett.

This case was soon disposed of.

Sir Charles Bassett was dignified and calm in the witness-box, and treated the whole matter with high-bred nonchalance, as one unworthy of the attention the Court was good enough to bestow on it. The judge disapproved the assault, but said the plaintiff had drawn it on himself by unprofessional conduct, and by threatening a gentleman in his own house. Verdict for the plaintiff-- 40s. The judge refused to certify for costs.

Lady Bassett, her throat parched with excitement, drove home, and awaited her husband's return with no little anxiety. As soon as she heard him in his dressing-room she glided in and went down on her knees to him. "Pray, pray don't scold me; I couldn't bear you to be defeated, Charles."

Sir Charles raised her, but did not kiss her.

"You think only of me," said he, rather sadly. "It is a sorry victory, too dearly bought."

Then she began to cry.

Sir Charles begged her not to cry; but still he did not kiss her, nor conceal his mortification: he hardly spoke to her for several days.

She accepted her disgrace pensively and patiently. She thought it all over, and felt her husband was right, and loved her like a man. But she thought, also, that she was not very wrong to love him in her way. Wrong or not, she felt she could not sit idle and see his enemy defeat him.

The coolness died away by degrees, with so much humility on one side and so much love on both: but the subject was interdicted forever.

A week after the trial Lady Bassett wrote to Mrs. Marsh, under cover to Mr. Oldfield, and told her how the trial had gone, and, with many expressions of gratitude, invited her and her husband to Huntercombe Hall. She told Sir Charles what she had done, and he wore a very strange look. "Might I suggest that we have them alone?" said he dryly.

"By all means," said Lady Bassett. "I don't want to share my paragon with anybody."

In due course a reply came; Mr. and Mrs. Marsh would avail themselves some day of Lady Bassett's kindness: at present they were going abroad. The letter was written by a man's hand.

About this time Oldfield sent Sir Charles Miss Somerset's deed, canceled, and told him she had married a man of fortune, who was devoted to her, and preferred to take her without any dowry.


Bassett and Wheeler went home, crestfallen, and dined together. They discussed the two trials, and each blamed the other. They quarreled and parted: and Wheeler sent in an enormous bill, extending over five years. Eighty-five items began thus: "Attending you at your house for several hours, on which occasion you asked my advice as to whether--" etc.

Now as a great many of these attendances had been really to shoot game and dine on rabbits at Bassett's expense, he thought it hard the conversation should be charged and the rabbits not.

Disgusted with his defeat, and resolved to evade this bill, he discharged his servant, and put a retired soldier into his house, armed him with a blunderbuss, and ordered him to keep all doors closed, and present the weapon aforesaid at all rate collectors, tax collectors, debt collectors, and applicants for money to build churches or convert the heathen; but not to fire at anybody except his friend Wheeler, nor at him unless he should try to shove a writ in at some chink of the building.

This done, he went on his travels, third-class, with his eyes always open, and his heart full of bitterness.

Nothing happened to Richard Bassett on his travels that I need relate until one evening when he alighted at a small commercial inn in the city of York, and there met a person whose influence on the events I am about to relate seems at this moment incredible to me, though it is simple fact.

He found the commercial room empty, and rang the bell. In came the waiter, a strapping girl, with coal-black eyes and brows to match, and a brown skin, but glowing cheeks.

They both started at sight of each other. It was Polly Somerset.

"Why, Polly! How d'ye do? How do you come here?"

"It's along of you I'm here, young man," said Polly, and began to whimper. She told him her sister had found out from the page she had been colloguing with him, and had never treated her like a sister after that. "And when she married a gentleman she wouldn't have me aside her for all I could say, but she did pack me off into service, and here I be."

The girl was handsome, and had a liking for him. Bassett was idle, and time hung heavy on his hands: he stayed at the inn a fortnight, more for Polly's company than anything: and at last offered to put her into a vacant cottage on his own little estate of Highmore. But the girl was shrewd, and had seen a great deal of life this last three years; she liked Richard in her way, but she saw he was all self, and she would not trust him. "Nay," said she, "I'll not break with Rhoda for any young man in Britain. If I leave service she will never own me at all: she is as hard as iron."

"Well, but you might come and take service near me, and then we could often get a word together."

"Oh, I'm agreeable to that: you find me a good place. I like an inn best; one sees fresh faces."

Bassett promised to manage that for her. On reaching home he found a conciliatory letter from Wheeler, coupled with his permission to tax the bill according to his own notion of justice. This and other letters were in an outhouse; the old soldier had not permitted them to penetrate the fortress. He had entered into the spirit of his instructions, and to him a letter was a probable hand-grenade.

Bassett sent for Wheeler; the bill was reduced, and a small payment made; the rest postponed till better times. Wheeler was then consulted about Polly, and he told his client the landlady of the "Lamb" wanted a good active waitress; he thought he could arrange that little affair.

In due course, thanks to this artist, Mary Wells, hitherto known as Polly Somerset, landed with her boxes at the "Lamb "; and with her quick foot, her black eyes, and ready tongue soon added to the popularity of the inn. Richard Bassett, Esq., for one, used to sup there now and then with his friend Wheeler, and even sleep there after supper.

By-and-by the vicar of Huntercombe wanted a servant, and offered to engage Mary Wells.

She thought twice about that. She could neither write nor read, and therefore was dreadfully dull without company; the bustle of an inn, and people coming and going, amused her. However, it was a temptation to be near Richard Bassett; so she accepted at last. Unable to write, she could not consult him; and she made sure he would be delighted.

But when she got into the village the prudent Mr. Bassett drew in his horns, and avoided her. She was mortified and very angry. She revenged herself on her employer; broke double her wages. The vicar had never been able to convert a smasher; so he parted with her very readily to Lady Bassett, with a hint that she was rather unfortunate in glass and china.

In that large house her spirits rose, and, having a hearty manner and a clapper tongue, she became a general favorite.

One day she met Mr. Bassett in the village, and he seemed delighted at the sight of her, and begged her to meet him that night at a certain place where Sir Charles's garden was divided from his own by a ha-ha. It was a very secluded spot, shut out from view, even in daylight, by the trees and shrubs and the winding nature of the walk that led to it; yet it was scarcely a hundred yards from Huntercombe Hall.

Mary Wells came to the tryst, but in no amorous mood. She came merely to tell Mr. Bassett her mind, viz., that he was a shabby fellow, and she had had her cry, and didn't care a straw for him now. And she did tell him so, in a loud voice, and with a flushed cheek.

But he set to work, humbly and patiently, to pacify her; he represented that, in a small house like the vicarage, every thing is known; he should have ruined her character if he had not held aloof. "But it is different now," said he. "You can run out of Huntercombe House, and meet me here, and nobody be the wiser."

"Not I," said Mary Wells, with a toss. "The worse thing a girl can do is to keep company with a gentleman. She must meet him in holes and corners, and be flung off, like an old glove, when she has served his turn."

"That will never happen to you, Polly dear. We must be prudent for the present; but I shall be more my own master some day, and then you will see how I love you."

"Seeing is believing," said the girl, sullenly. "You be too fond of yourself to love the likes o' me."

Such was the warning her natural shrewdness gave her. But perseverance undermined it. Bassett so often threw out hints of what he would do some day, mixed with warm protestations of love, that she began almost to hope he would marry her. She really liked him; his fine figure and his color pleased her eye, and he had a plausible tongue to boot.

As for him, her rustic beauty and health pleased his senses; but, for his heart, she had little place in that. What he courted her for just now was to keep him informed of all that passed in Huntercombe Hall. His morbid soul hung about that place, and he listened greedily to Mary Wells's gossip. He had counted on her volubility; it did not disappoint him. She never met him without a budget, one-half of it lies or exaggerations. She was a born liar. One night she came in high spirits, and greeted him thus: "What d'ye think? I'm riz! Mrs. Eden, that dresses my lady's hair, she took ill yesterday, and I told the housekeeper I was used to dress hair, and she told my lady. If you didn't please our Rhoda at that, 'twas as much as your life was worth. You mustn't be thinking of your young man with her hair in your hand, or she'd rouse you with a good crack on the crown with a hair-brush. So I dressed my lady's hair, and handled it like old chaney; by the same token, she is so pleased with me you can't think. She is a real lady; not like our Rhoda. Speaks as civil to me as if I was one of her own sort; and, says she, 'I should like to have you about me, if I might.' I had it on my tongue to tell her she was mistress; but I was a little skeared at her at first, you know. But she will have me about her; I see it in her eye."

Bassett was delighted at this news, but he did not speak his mind all at once; the time was not come. He let the gypsy rattle on, and bided his time. He flattered her, and said he envied Lady Bassett to have such a beautiful girl about her. "I'll let my hair grow," said he.

"Ay, do," said she, "and then I'll pull it for you."

This challenge ended in a little struggle for a kiss, the sincerity of which was doubtful. Polly resisted vigorously, to be sure, but briefly, and, having given in, returned it.

One day she told him Sir Charles had met her plump, and had given a great start.

This made Bassett very uneasy. "Confound it, he will turn you away. He will say, 'This girl knows too much.'"

"How simple you be!" said the girl. "D'ye think I let him know? Says he, 'I think I have seen you before.' 'Yes, sir,' says I, 'I was housemaid here before my lady had me to dress her.' 'No,' says he, 'I mean in London--in Mayfair, you know.' I declare you might ha' knocked me down wi' a feather. So I looks in his face, as cool as marble, and I said, 'No, sir; I never had the luck to see London, sir,' says I. 'All the better for you,' says he; and he swallowed it like spring water, as sister Rhoda used to say when she told one and they believed it."

"You are a clever girl," said Bassett. "He would have turned you out of the house if he had known who you were."

She disappointed him in one thing; she was bad at answering questions. Morally she was not quite so great an egotist as himself, but intellectually a greater. Her volubility was all egotism. She could scarcely say ten words, except about herself. So, when Bassett questioned her about Sir Charles and Lady Bassett, she said "Yes," or "No," or "I don't know," and was off at a tangent to her own sayings and doings.

Bassett, however, by great patience and tact, extracted from her at last that Sir Charles and Lady Bassett were both sore at not having children, and that Lady Bassett bore the blame.

"That is a good joke," said he. "The smoke-dried rake! Polly, you might do me a good turn. You have got her ear; open her eyes for me. What might not happen?" His eyes shone fiendishly.

The young woman shook her head. "Me meddle between man and wife! I'm too fond of my place."

"Ah, you don't love me as I love you. You think only of yourself."

"And what do you think of? Do you love me well enough to find me a better place, if you get me turned out of Huntercombe Hall?"

"Yes, I will; a much better."

"That is a bargain."

Mary Wells was silly in some things, but she was very cunning, too; and she knew Richard Bassett's hobby. She told him to mind himself, as well as Sir Charles, or perhaps he would die a bachelor, and so his flesh and blood would never inherit Huntercombe. This remark entered his mind. The trial, though apparently a drawn battle, had been fatal to him--he was cut; he dared not pay his addresses to any lady in the county, and he often felt very lonely now. So everything combined to draw him toward Mary Wells--her swarthy beauty, which shone out at church like a black diamond among the other women; his own loneliness; and the pleasure these stolen meetings gave him. Custom itself is pleasant, and the company of this handsome chatterbox became a habit, and an agreeable one. The young woman herself employed a woman's arts; she was cold and loving by turns till at last he gave her what she was working for, a downright promise of marriage. She pretended not to believe him, and so led him further; he swore he would marry her.

He made one stipulation, however. She really must learn to read and write first.

When he had sworn this Mary became more uniformly affectionate; and as women who have been in service learn great self-government, and can generally please so long as it serves their turn, she made herself so agreeable to him that he began really to have a downright liking for her--a liking bounded, of course, by his incurable selfishness; but as for his hobby, that was on her side.

Now learning to read and write was wormwood to Mary Wells; but the prize was so great; she knew all about the Huntercombe estates, partly from her sister, partly from Bassett himself. (He must tell his wrongs even to this girl.) So she resolved to pursue matrimony, even on the severe condition of becoming a scholar. She set about it as follows: One day that she was doing Lady Bassett's hair she sighed several times. This was to attract the lady's attention, and it succeeded.

"Is there anything the matter, Mary?"

"No, my lady."

"I think there is."

"Well, my lady, I am in a little trouble; but it is my own people's fault for not sending of me to school. I might be married to-morrow if I could only read and write."

"And can you not?"

"No, my lady."

"Dear me! I thought everybody could read and write nowadays."

"La, no, my lady! not half of them in our village."

"Your parents are much to blame, my poor girl. Well, but it is not too late. Now I think of it, there is an adult school in the village. Shall I arrange for you to go to it?"

"Thank you, my lady. But then--"


"All my fellow-servants would have a laugh against me."

"The person you are engaged to, will he not instruct you?"

"Oh, he have no time to teach me. Besides, I don't want him to know, either. But I won't be his wife to shame him." (Another sigh.)

"Mary," said Lady Bassett, in the innocence of her heart, "you shall not be mortified, and you shall not lose a good marriage. I will try and teach you myself."

Mary was profuse in thanks. Lady Bassett received them rather coldly. She gave her a few minutes' instruction in her dressing-room every day; and Mary, who could not have done anything intellectual for half an hour at a stretch, gave her whole mind for those few minutes. She was quick, and learned very fast. In two months she could read a great deal more than she could understand, and could write slowly but very clearly.

Now by this time Lady Bassett had become so interested in her pupil that she made her read letters and newspapers to her at those parts of the toilet when her services were not required.

Mary Wells, though a great chatterbox, was the closest girl in England. Limpet never stuck to a rock as she could stick to a lie. She never said one word to Bassett about Lady Bassett's lessons. She kept strict silence till she could write a letter, and then she sent him a line to say she had learned to write for love of him, and she hoped he would keep his promise.

Bassett's vanity was flattered by this. But, on reflection, he suspected it was a falsehood. He asked her suddenly, at their next meeting, who had written that note for her.

"You shall see me write the fellow to it when you like," was the reply.

Bassett resolved to submit the matter to that test some day. At present, however, he took her word for it, and asked her who had taught her.

"I had to teach myself. Nobody cares enough for me to teach me. Well, I'll forgive you if you will write me a nice letter for mine."

"What! when we can meet here and say everything?"

"No matter; I have written to you, and you might write to me. They all get letters, except me; and the jades hold 'em up to me: they see I never get one. When you are out, post me a letter now and then. It will only cost you a penny. I'm sure I don't ask you for much."

Bassett humored her in this, and in one of his letters called her his wife that was to be.

This pleased her so much that the next time they met she hung round his neck with a good deal of feminine grace.

Richard Bassett was a man who now lived in the future. Everybody in the county believed he had written that anonymous letter, and he had no hope of shining by his own light. It was bitter to resign his personal hopes; but he did, and sullenly resolved to be obscure himself, but the father of the future heirs of Huntercombe. He would marry Mary Wells, and lay the blame of the match upon Sir Charles, who had blackened him in the county, and put it out of his power to win a lady's hand.

He told Wheeler he was determined to marry; but he had not the courage to tell him all at once what a wife he had selected.

The consequence of this half confession was that Wheeler went to work to find him a girl with money, and not under county influence.

One of Wheeler's clients was a retired citizen, living in a pretty villa near the market town. Mr. Wright employed him in little matters, and found him active and attentive. There was a Miss Wright, a meek little girl, palish, on whom her father doted. Wheeler talked to this girl of his friend Bassett, his virtues and his wrongs, and interested the young lady in him. This done, he brought him to the house, and the girl, being slight and delicate, gazed with gentle but undisguised admiration on Bassett's torso. Wheeler had told Richard Miss Wright was to have seven thousand pounds on her wedding-day, and that excited a corresponding admiration in the athletic gentleman.

After that Bassett often called by himself, and the father encouraged the intimacy. He was old, and wished to see his daughter married before he left her and this seemed an eligible match, though not a brilliant one; a bit of land and a good name on one side, a smart bit of money on the other. The thing went on wheels. Richard Bassett was engaged to Jane Wright almost before he was aware.

Now he felt uneasy about Mary Wells, very uneasy; but it was only the uneasiness of selfishness.

He began to try and prepare; he affected business visits to distant places, etc., in order to break off by degrees. By this means their meetings were comparatively few. When they did meet (which was now generally by written appointment), he tried to prepare by telling her he had encountered losses, and feared that to marry her would be a bad job for her as well as for him, especially if she should have children.

Mary replied she had been used to work, and would rather work for a husband than any other master.

On another occasion she asked him quietly whether a gentleman ever broke his oath.

"Never," said Richard.

In short, she gave him no opening. She would not quarrel. She adhered to him as she had never adhered to anything but a lie before.

Then he gave up all hope of smoothing the matter. He coolly cut her; never came to the trysting-place; did not answer her letters; and, being a reckless egotist, married Jane Wright all in a hurry, by special license.

He sent forward to the clerk of Huntercombe church, and engaged the ringers to ring the church-bells from six o'clock till sundown. This was for Sir Charles's ears.

It was a balmy evening in May. Lady Bassett was commencing her toilet in an indolent way, with Mary Wells in attendance, when the church-bells of Huntercombe struck up a merry peal.

"Ah!" said Lady Bassett; "what is that for? Do you know, Mary?"

"No, my lady. Shall I ask?"

"No; I dare say it is a village wedding."

"No, my lady, there's nobody been married here this six weeks. Our kitchen-maid and the baker was the last, you know. I'll send, and know what it is for." Mary went out and dispatched the first house-maid she caught for intelligence. The girl ran into the stable to her sweetheart, and he told her directly.

Meantime Lady Bassett moralized upon church-bells.

"They are always sad--saddest when they seem to be merriest. Poor things! they are trying hard to be merry now; but they sound very sad to me--sadder than usual, somehow."


The girl knocked at the door. Mary half opened it, and the news shot in-- "'Tis for Squire Bassett; he is bringing of his bride home to Highmore to-day."

"Mr. Bassett--married--that is sudden. Who could he find to marry him?" There was no reply. The house-maid had flown off to circulate the news, and Mary Wells was supporting herself by clutching the door, sick with the sudden blow.

Close as she was, her distress could not have escaped another woman's eye, but Lady Bassett never looked at her. After the first surprise she had gone into a reverie, and was conjuring up the future to the sound of those church-bells. She requested Mary to go and tell Sir Charles; but she did not lift her head, even to give this order.

Mary crept away, and knocked at Sir Charles's dressing-room.

"Come in," said Sir Charles, thinking, of course, it was his valet.

Mary Wells just opened the door and held it ajar. "My lady bids me tell you, sir, the bells are ringing for Mr. Bassett; he's married, and brings her home tonight."

A dead silence marked the effect of this announcement on Sir Charles. Mary Wells waited.


"May Heaven's curse light on that marriage, and no child of theirs ever take my place in this house!"

"A-a-men!" said Mary Wells.

"Thank you, sir!" said Sir Charles. He took her voice for a man's, so deep and guttural was her "A--a--men" with concentrated passion.

She closed the door and crept back to her mistress.

Lady Bassett was seated at her glass, with her hair down and her shoulders bare. Mary clinched her teeth, and set about her usual work; but very soon Lady Bassett gave a start, and stared into the glass. "Mary!" said she, "what is the matter? You look ghastly, and your hands are as cold as ice. Are you faint?"


"Then you are ill; very ill."

"I have taken a chill," said Mary, doggedly.

"Go instantly to the still-room maid, and get a large glass of spirits and hot water--quite hot."

Mary, who wanted to be out of the room, fastened her mistress's back hair with dogged patience, and then moved toward the door.

"Mary," said Lady Bassett, in a half-apologetic tone.

"My lady."

"I should like to hear what the bride is like."

"I'll know that to-night," said Mary, grinding her teeth.

"I shall not require you again till bedtime."

Mary left the room, and went, not to the still-room, but to her own garret, and there she gave way. She flung herself, with a wild cry, upon her little bed, and clutched her own hair and the bedclothes, and writhed all about the bed like a wild-cat wounded.

In this anguish she passed an hour she never forgot nor forgave. She got up at last, and started at her own image in the glass. Hair like a savage's, cheek pale, eyes blood-shot.

She smoothed her hair, washed her face, and prepared to go downstairs; but now she was seized with a faintness, and had to sit down and moan. She got the better of that, and went to the still-room, and got some spirits; but she drank them neat, gulped them down like water. They sent the devil into her black eye, but no color into her pale cheek. She had a little scarlet shawl; she put it over her head, and went into the village. She found it astir with expectation.

Mr. Bassett's house stood near the highway, but the entrance to the premises was private, and through a long white gate.

By this gate was a heap of stones, and Mary Wells got on that heap and waited.

When she had been there about half an hour, Richard Bassett drove up in a hired carriage, with his pale little wife beside him. At his own gate his eye encountered Mary Wells, and he started. She stood above him, with her arms folded grandly; her cheek, so swarthy and ruddy, was now pale, and her black eyes glittered like basilisks at him and his bride. The whole woman seemed lifted out of her low condition, and dignified by wrong.

He had to sustain her look for a few seconds, while the gate was being opened, and it seemed an age. He felt his first pang of remorse when he saw that swarthy, ruddy cheek so pale. Then came admiration of her beauty, and disgust at the woman for whom he had jilted her; and that gave way to fear: the hater looked into those glittering eyes, and saw he had roused a hate as unrelenting as his own.


FOR the first few days Richard Bassett expected some annoyance from Mary Wells; but none came, and he began to flatter himself she was too fond of him to give him pain.

This impression was shaken about ten days after the little scene I have described. He received a short note from her, as follows:


"SIR--You must meet me to-night, at the same place, eight o'clock. If you do not come it will be the worse for you.

"M. W."


Richard Bassett's inclination was to treat this summons with contempt; but he thought it would be wiser to go and see whether the girl had any hostile intentions. Accordingly he went to the tryst. He waited for some time, and at last he heard a quick, firm foot, and Mary Wells appeared. She was hooded with her scarlet shawl, that contrasted admirably with her coal-black hair; and out of this scarlet frame her dark eyes glittered. She stood before him in silence.

He said nothing.

She was silent too for some time. But she spoke first.

"Well, sir, you promised one, and you have married another. Now what are you going to do for me?"

"What can I do, Mary? I'm not the first that wanted to marry for love, but money came in his way and tempted him."

"No, you are not the first. But that's neither here nor there, sir. That chalk-faced girl has bought you away from me with her money, and now I mean to have my share on't."

"Oh, if that is all," said Richard, "we can soon settle it. I was afraid you were going to talk about a broken heart, and all that stuff. You are a good, sensible girl; and too beautiful to want a husband long. I'll give you fifty pounds to forgive me."

"Fifty pounds!" said Mary Wells, contemptuously. "What! when you promised me I should be your wife to-day, and lady of Huntercombe Hall by-and-by? Fifty pounds! No; not five fifties."

"Well, I'll give you seventy-five; and if that won't do, you must go to law, and see what you can get."

"What, han't you had your bellyful of law? Mind, it is an unked thing to forswear yourself, and that is what you done at the 'sizes. I have seen what you did swear about your letter to my sister; Sir Charles have got it all wrote down in his study: and you swore a lie to the judge, as you swore a lie to me here under heaven, you villain!" She raised her voice very loud. "Don't you gainsay me, or I'll soon have you by the heels in jail for your lies. You'll do as I bid you, and very lucky to be let off so cheap. You was to be my master, but you chose her instead: well, then, you shall be my servant. You shall come here every Saturday at eight o'clock, and bring me a sovereign, which I never could keep a lump o' money, and I have had one or two from Rhoda; so I'll take it a sovereign a week till I get a husband of my own sort, and then you'll have to come down handsome once for all."

Bassett knitted his brows and thought hard. His natural impulse was to defy her; but it struck him that a great many things might happen in a few months; so at last he said, humbly, "I consent. I have been to blame. Only I'd rather pay you this money in some other way."

"My way, or none."

"Very well, then, I will bring it you as you say."

"Mind you do, then," said Mary Wells, and turned haughtily on her heel.

Bassett never ventured to absent himself at the hour, and, at first, the blackmail was delivered and received with scarcely a word; but by-and-by old habits so far revived that some little conversation took place.

Then, after a while, Bassett used to tell her he was unhappy, and she used to reply she was glad of it.

Then he began to speak slightingly of his wife, and say what a fool he had been to marry a poor, silly nonentity, when be might have wedded a beauty.

Mary Wells, being intensely vain, listened with complacency to this, although she replied coldly and harshly.

By-and-by her natural volubility overpowered her, and she talked to Bassett about herself and Huntercombe House, but always with a secret reserve.

Later--such is the force of habit--each used to look forward with satisfaction to the Saturday meeting, although each distrusted and feared the other at bottom.

Later still that came to pass which Mary Wells had planned from the first with deep malice, and that shrewd insight into human nature which many a low woman has--the cooler she was the warmer did Richard Bassett grow, till at last, contrasting his pale, meek little wife with this glowing Hebe, he conceived an unholy liking for the latter. She met it sometimes with coldness and reproaches, sometimes with affected alarm, sometimes with a half-yielding manner, and so tormented him to her heart's content, and undermined his affection for his wife. Thus she revenged herself on them both to her heart's content.

But malice so perverse is apt to recoil on itself; and women, in particular, should not undertake a long and subtle revenge of this sort; since the strongest have their hours of weakness, and are surprised into things they never intended. The subsequent history of Mary Wells will exemplify this. Meantime, however, meek little Mrs. Bassett was no match for the beauty and low cunning of her rival.

Yet a time came when she defended herself unconsciously. She did something that made her husband most solicitous for her welfare and happiness. He began to watch her health with maternal care, to shield her from draughts, to take care of her diet, to indulge her in all her whims instead of snubbing her, and to pet her, till she was the happiest wife in England for a time. She deserved this at his hands, for she assisted him there where his heart was fixed; she aided his hobby; did more for it than any other creature in England could.


To return to Huntercombe Hall: the loving couple that owned it were no longer happy. The hope of offspring was now deserting them, and the disappointment was cruel. They suffered deeply, with this difference--that Lady Bassett pined and Sir Charles Bassett fretted.

The woman's grief was more pure and profound than the man's. If there had been no Richard Bassett in the world, still her bosom would have yearned and pined, and the great cry of Nature, "Give me children or I die," would have been in her heart, though it would never have risen to her lips.

Sir Charles had, of course, less of this profound instinct than his wife, but he had it too; only in him the feeling was adulterated and at the same time imbittered by one less simple and noble. An enemy sat at his gate. That enemy, whose enduring malice had at last begotten equal hostility in the childless baronet, was now married, and would probably have heirs; and, if so, that hateful brood--the spawn of an anonymous letter-writer--would surely inherit Bassett and Huntercombe, succeeding to Sir Charles Bassett, deceased without issue. This chafed the childless man, and gradually undermined a temper habitually sweet, though subject, as we have seen, to violent ebullitions where the provocation was intolerable. Sir Charles, then, smarting under his wound, spoke now and then rather unkindly to the wife he loved so devotedly; that is to say, his manner sometimes implied that he blamed her for their joint calamity.

Lady Bassett submitted to these stings in silence. They were rare, and speedily followed by touching regrets; and even had it not been so she would have borne them with resignation; for this motherless wife loved her husband with all a wife's devotion and a mother's unselfish patience. Let this be remembered to her credit. It is the truth, and she may need it.

Her own yearning was too deep and sad for fretfulness; yet though, unlike her husband's, it never broke out in anger, the day was gone by when she could keep it always silent. It welled out of her at times in ways that were truly womanly and touching.

When she called on a wife the lady was sure to parade her children. The boasted tact of women--a quality the narrow compass of which has escaped their undiscriminating eulogists--was sure to be swept away by maternal egotism; and then poor Lady Bassett would admire the children loudly, and kiss them, to please the cruel egotist, and hide the tears that rose to her own eyes; but she would shorten her visit.

When a child died in the village Mary Wells was sure to be sent with words of comfort and substantial marks of sympathy.

Scarcely a day passed that something or other did not happen to make the wound bleed; but I will confine myself to two occasions, on each of which her heart's agony spoke out, and so revealed how much it must have endured in silence.

Since the day when Sir Charles allowed her to sit in a little room close to his study while he received Mr. Wheeler's visit she had fitted up that room, and often sat there to be near Sir Charles; and he would sometimes call her in and tell her his justice cases. One day she was there when the constable brought in a prisoner and several witnesses. The accused was a stout, florid girl, with plump cheeks and pale gray eyes. She seemed all health, stupidity, and simplicity. She carried a child on her left arm. No dweller in cities could suspect this face of crime. As well indict a calf.

Yet the witnesses proved beyond a doubt that she had been seen with her baby in the neighborhood of a certain old well on a certain day at noon; that soon after noon she had been seen on the road without her baby, and being asked what had become of it, had said she had left it with her aunt, ten miles off; and that about an hour after that a faint cry had been heard at the bottom of the old well--it was ninety feet deep; people had assembled, and a brave farmer's boy had been lowered in the bight of a cart-rope, and had brought up a dead hen, and a live child, bleeding at the cheek, having fallen on a heap of fagots at the bottom of the well; which child was the prisoner's.

Sir Charles had the evidence written down, and then told the accused she might make a counter-statement if she chose, but it would be wiser to say nothing at all.

Thereupon the accused dropped him a little short courtesy, looked him steadily in the face with her pale gray eyes, and delivered herself as follows:

"If you please, sir, I was a-sitting by th' old well, with baby in my arms; and I was mortal tired, I was, wi' carring of him; he be uncommon heavy for his age; and, if you please, sir, he is uncommon resolute; and while I was so he give a leap right out of my arms and fell down th' old well. I screams, and runs away to tell my brother's wife, as lives at top of the hill; but she was gone into North Wood for dry sticks to light her oven; and when I comes back they had got him out of the well, and I claims him directly; and the constable said we must come before you, sir; so here we be."

This she delivered very glibly, without tremulousness, hesitation, or the shadow of a blush, and dropped another little courtesy at the end to Sir Charles.

Thereupon he said not one word to her, but committed her for trial, and gave the farmer's boy a sovereign.

The people were no sooner gone than Lady Bassett came in, with the tears streaming, and threw herself at her husband's knees. "Oh, Charles! can such things be? Does God give a child to a woman that has the heart to kill it, and refuse one to me, who would give my heart's blood to save a hair of its little head? Oh, what have we done that he singles us out to be so cruel to us?"

Then Sir Charles tried to comfort her, but could not, and the childless ones wept together.


It began to be whispered that Mrs. Bassett was in the family way. Neither Sir Charles nor Lady Bassett mentioned this rumor. It would have been like rubbing vitriol into their own wounds. But this reserve was broken through one day. It was a sunny afternoon in June, just thirteen months after Mr. Bassett's wedding--Lady Bassett was with her husband in his study, settling invitations for a ball, and writing them--when the church-bells struck up a merry peal. They both left off, and looked at each other eloquently. Lady Bassett went out, but soon returned, looking pale and wild.

"Yes!" said she, with forced calmness. Then, suddenly losing her self-command, she broke out, pointing through the window at Highmore, "He has got a fine boy--to take our place here. Kill me, Charles! Send me to heaven to pray for you, and take another wife that will love you less but be like other wives. That villain has married a fruitful vine, and" (lifting both arms to heaven, with a gesture unspeakably piteous, poetic, and touching) "I am a barren stock."


OF all the fools Nature produces with the help of Society, fathers of first-borns are about the most offensive.

The mothers of ditto are bores too, flinging their human dumplings at every head; but, considering the tortures they have suffered, and the anguish the little egotistical viper they have just hatched will most likely give them, and considering further that their love of their firstborn is greater than their pride, and their pride unstained by vanity, one must make allowances for them.

But the male parent is not so excusable. His fussy vanity is an inferior article to the mother's silly but amiable pride. His obtrusive affection is two-thirds of it egotism, and blindish egotism, too; for if, at the very commencement of the wife's pregnancy the husband is sent to India, or hanged, the little angel, as they call it--Lord forgive them!--is nurtured from a speck to a mature infant by the other parent, and finally brought into the world by her just as effectually as if her male confederate had been tied to her apron-string: all the time, instead of expatriated or hanged.

Therefore the Law--for want, I suppose, of studying Medicine--is a little inconsiderate in giving children to fathers, and taking them by force from such mothers as can support them; and therefore let Gallina go on clucking over her first-born, but Gallus be quiet, or sing a little smaller.

With these preliminary remarks, let me introduce to you a character new in fiction, but terribly old in history--


Upon the birth of a son and heir Mr. Richard Bassett was inflated almost to bursting. He became suddenly hospitable, collected all his few friends about him, and showed them all the Boy at great length, and talked Boy and little else. He went out into the world and made calls on people merely to remind them he had a son and heir.

His self-gratulation took a dozen forms; perhaps the most amusing, and the richest food for satire, was the mock-querulous style, of which he showed himself a master.

"Don't you ever marry," said he to Wheeler and others. "Look at me; do you think I am the master of my own house? Not I; I am a regular slave. First, there is a monthly nurse, who orders me out of my wife's presence, or graciously lets me in, just as she pleases; that is Queen 1. Then there's a wet-nurse, Queen 2, whom I must humor in everything, or she will quarrel with me, and avenge herself by souring her milk. But these are mild tyrants compared with the young King himself. If he does but squall we must all skip, and find out what he ails, or what he wants. As for me, I am looked upon as a necessary evil; the women seem to admit that a father is an incumbrance without which these little angels could not exist, but that is all."

He had a christening feast, and it was pretty well attended, for he reminded all he asked that the young Christian was the heir to the Bassett estates. They feasted, and the church-bells rang merrily.

He had his pew in the church new lined with cloth, and took his wife to be churched. The nurse was in the pew too, with his son and heir. It squalled and spoiled the Liturgy. Thereat Gallus chuckled.

He made a gravel-walk all along the ha-ha that separated his garden from Sir Charles's, and called it "The Heir's Walk." Here the nurse and child used to parade on sunny afternoons.

He got an army of workmen, and built a nursery fit for a duke's nine children. It occupied two entire stories, and rose in the form of a square tower high above the rest of his house, which, indeed, was as humble as "The Heir's Tower" was pretentious. "The Heir's Tower" had a flat lead roof easy of access, and from it you could inspect Huntercombe Hall, and see what was done on the lawn or at some of the windows.

Here, in the August afternoons, Mr. and Mrs. Bassett used to sit drinking their tea, with nurse and child; and Bassett would talk to his unconscious boy, and tell him that the great house and all that belonged to it should be his in spite of the arts that had been used to rob him of it.

Now, of course, the greater part of all this gratulation was merely amusing, and did no harm except stirring up the bile of a few old bachelors, and imbittering them worse than ever against clucking cocks, crowing hens, inflated parents, and matrimony in general.

But the overflow of it reached Huntercombe Hall, and gave cruel pain to the childless ones, over whom this inflated father was, in fact, exulting.

As for the christening, and the bells that pealed for it, and the subsequent churching, they bore these things with sore hearts, and bravely, being things of course. But when it came to their ears that Bassett and his family called his new gravel-walk "The Heir's Walk," and his ridiculous nursery "The Heir's Tower," this roused a bitter animosity, and, indeed, led to reprisals. Sir Charles built a long wall at the edge of his garden, shutting out "The Heir's Walk" and intercepting the view of his own premises from that walk.

Then Mr. Bassett made a little hill at the end of his walk, so that the heir might get one peep over the wall at his rich inheritance.

Then Sir Charles began to fell timber on a gigantic scale. He went to work with several gangs of woodmen, and all his woods, which were very extensive, rang with the ax, and the trees fell like corn. He made no secret that he was going to sell timber to the tune of several thousand pounds and settle it on his wife.

Then Richard Bassett, through Wheeler, his attorney, remonstrated in his own name, and that of his son, against this excessive fall of timber on an entailed estate.

Sir Charles chafed like a lion stung by a gad-fly, but vouchsafed no reply: the answer came from Mr. Oldfield; he said Sir Charles had a right under the entail to fell every stick of timber, and turn his woods into arable ground, if he chose; and even if he had not, looking at his age and his wife's, it was extremely improbable that Richard Bassett would inherit the estates: the said Richard Bassett was not personally named in the entail, and his rights were all in supposition: if Mr. Wheeler thought he could dispute both these positions, the Court of Chancery was open to his client.

Then Wheeler advised Bassett to avoid the Court of Chancery in a matter so debatable; and Sir Charles felled all the more for the protest. The dead bodies of the trees fell across each other, and daylight peeped through the thick woods. It was like the clearing of a primeval forest.

Richard Bassett went about with a witness and counted the fallen.

The poor were allowed the lopwood: they thronged in for miles round, and each built himself a great wood pile for the winter; the poor blessed Sir Charles: he gave the proceeds, thirteen thousand pounds, to his wife for her separate use. He did not tie it up. He restricted her no further than this: she undertook never to draw above £100 at a time without consulting Mr. Oldfield as to the application. Sir Charles said he should add to this fund every year; his beloved wife should not be poor, even if the hated cousin should outlive him and turn her out of Huntercombe.

And so passed the summer of that year; then the autumn; and then came a singularly mild winter. There was more hunting than usual, and Richard Bassett, whom his wife's fortune enabled to cut a better figure than before, was often in the field, mounted on a great bony horse that was not so fast as some, being half-bred, but a wonderful jumper.

Even in this pastime the cousins were rivals. Sir Charles's favorite horse was a magnificent thoroughbred, who was seldom far off at the finish: over good ground Richard's cocktail had no chance with him; but sometimes, if toward the close of the run they came to stiff fallows and strong fences, the great strength of the inferior animal, and that prudent reserve of his powers which distinguishes the canny cocktail from the higher-blooded animal, would give him the advantage.

Of this there occurred, on a certain 18th of November, an example fraught with very serious consequences.

That day the hounds met on Sir Charles's estate. Sir Charles and Lady Bassett breakfasted in Pink; he had on his scarlet coat, white tie, irreproachable buckskins, and top-boots. (It seemed a pity a speck of dirt should fall on them.) Lady Bassett was in her riding-habit; and when she mounted her pony, and went to cover by his side, with her blue-velvet cap and her red-brown hair, she looked more like a brilliant flower than a mere woman.

A veteran fox was soon found, and went away with unusual courage and speed, and Lady Bassett paced homeward to wait her lord's return, with an anxiety men laugh at, but women can appreciate. It was a form of quiet suffering she had constantly endured, and never complained, nor even mentioned the subject to Sir Charles but once, and then he pooh-poohed her fancies.

The hunt had a burst of about forty minutes that left Richard Bassett's cocktail in the rear; and the fox got into a large beech wood with plenty of briars, and kept dodging about it for two hours, and puzzled the scent repeatedly.

Richard Bassett elected not to go winding in and out among trees, risk his horse's legs in rabbit-holes, and tire him for nothing. He had kept for years a little note book he called "Statistics of Foxes," and that told him an old dog-fox of uncommon strength, if dislodged from that particular wood, would slip into Bellman's Coppice, and if driven out of that would face the music again, would take the open country for Higham Gorse, and probably be killed before he got there; but once there a regiment of scythes might cut him out, but bleeding, sneezing fox-hounds would never work him out at the tail of a long run.

So Richard Bassett kept out of the wood, and went gently on to Bellman's Coppice and waited outside.

His book proved an oracle. After two hours' dodging and maneuvering the fox came out at the very end of Bellman's Coppice, with nothing near him but Richard Bassett. Pug gave him the white of his eye in an ugly leer, and headed straight as a crow for Higham Gorse.

Richard Bassett blew his horn, collected the hunt, and laid the dogs on. Away they went, close together, thunder-mouthed on the hot scent.

After a three miles' gallop they sighted the fox for a moment just going over the crest of a rising ground two furlongs off. Then the hullabbaloo and excitement grew furious, and one electric fury animated dogs, men, and horses. Another mile, and the fox ran in sight scarcely a furlong off; but many of the horses were distressed: the Bassetts, however, kept up, one by his horse being fresh, the other by his animal's native courage and speed.

Then came some meadows, bounded by a thick hedge, and succeeded by a plowed field of unusual size--eighty acres.

When the fox darted into this hedge the hounds were yelling at his heels; the hunt burst through the thin fence, expecting to see them kill close to it.

But the wily fox had other resources at his command than speed. Appreciating his peril, he doubled and ran sixty yards down the ditch, and the impetuous hounds rushed forward and overran the scent. They raved about to and fro, till at last one of the gentlemen descried the fox running down a double furrow in the middle of the field. He had got into this, and so made his way more smoothly than his four-footed pursuers could. The dogs were laid on, and away they went helter-skelter.

At the end of this stiff ground a stiffish leap awaited them; an old quickset had been cut down, and all the elm-trees that grew in it, and a new quickset hedge set on a high bank with double ditches.

The huntsman had an Irish horse that laughed at this fence; he jumped on to the bank, and then jumped off it into the next field.

Richard Bassett's cocktail came up slowly, rose high, and landed his forefeet in the field, and so scrambled on.

Sir Charles went at it rather rashly; his horse, tried hard by the fallow, caught his heels against the edge of the bank, and went headlong into the other ditch, throwing Sir Charles over his head into the field. Unluckily some of the trees were lying about, and Sir Charles's head struck one of these in falling; the horse blundered out again, and galloped after the hounds, but the rider lay there motionless.

Nobody stopped at first; the pace was too good to inquire; but presently Richard Bassett, who had greeted the accident with a laugh, turned round in his saddle, and saw his cousin motionless, and two or three gentlemen dismounting at the place. These were newcomers. Then he resigned the hunt, and rode back.

Sir Charles's cap was crushed in, and there was blood on his white waistcoat; he was very pale, and quite insensible.

The gentlemen raised him, with expressions of alarm and kindly concern, and inquired of each other what was best to be done.

Richard Bassett saw an opportunity to conciliate opinion, and seized it. "He must be taken home directly," said he. "We must carry him to that farmhouse, and get a cart for him."

He helped carry him accordingly. The farmer lent them a cart, with straw, and they laid the insensible baronet gently on it, Richard Bassett supporting his head. "Gentlemen," said he, rather pompously, "at such a moment everything but the tie of kindred is forgotten." Which resounding sentiment was warmly applauded by the honest squires.

They took him slowly and carefully toward Huntercombe, distant about two miles from the scene of the accident.


This 18th November Lady Bassett passed much as usual with her on hunting days. She was quietly patient till the afternoon, and then restless, and could not settle down in any part of the house till she got to a little room on the first floor, with a bay-window commanding the country over which Sir Charles was hunting. In this she sat, with her head against one of the mullions, and eyed the country-side as far as she could see.

Presently she heard a rustle, and there was Mary Wells standing and looking at her with evident emotion.

"What is the matter, Mary?" said Lady Bassett.

"Oh, my lady!" said Mary. And she trembled, and her hands worked.

Lady Bassett started up with alarm painted in her countenance.

"My lady, there's something wrong in the hunting field."

"Sir Charles!"

"An accident, they say."

Lady Bassett put her hand to her heart with a faint cry. Mary Wells ran to her.

"Come with me directly!" cried Lady Bassett. She snatched up her bonnet, and in another minute she and Mary Wells were on their road to the village, questioning every body they met.

But nobody they questioned could tell them anything. The stable-boy, who had told the report in the kitchen of Huntercombe, said he had it from a gentleman's groom, riding by as he stood at the gates.

The ill news thus flung in at the gate by one passing rapidly by was not confirmed by any further report, and Lady Bassett began to hope it was false.

But a terrible confirmation came at last.

In the outskirts of the village mistress and servant encountered a sorrowful procession: the cart itself, followed by five gentlemen on horseback, pacing slowly, and downcast as at a funeral.

In the cart Sir Charles Bassett, splashed all over with mud, and his white waistcoat bloody, lay with his head upon Richard Bassett's knee. His hair was wet with blood, some of which had trickled down his cheek and dried. Even Richard's buckskins were slightly stained with it.

At that sight Lady Bassett uttered a scream, which those who heard it never forgot, and flung herself, Heaven knows how, into the cart; but she got there, and soon had that bleeding head on her bosom. She took no notice of Richard Bassett, but she got Sir Charles away from him, and the cart took her, embracing him tenderly, and kissing his hurt head, and moaning over him, all through the village to Huntercombe Hall.

Four years ago they passed through the same village in a carriage-and-four--bells pealing, rustics shouting--to take possession of Huntercombe, and fill it with pledges of their great and happy love; and as they flashed past the heir at law shrank hopeless into his little cottage. Now, how changed the pageant!--a farmer's cart, a splashed and bleeding and senseless form in it, supported by a childless, despairing woman, one weeping attendant walking at the side, and, among the gentlemen pacing slowly behind, the heir at law, with his head lowered in that decent affectation of regret which all heirs can put on to hide the indecent complacency within.


AT the steps of Huntercombe Hall the servants streamed out, and relieved the strangers of the sorrowful load. Sir Charles was carried into the Hall, and Richard Bassett turned away, with one triumphant flash of his eye, quickly suppressed, and walked with impenetrable countenance and studied demeanor into Highmore House.

Even here he did not throw off the mask. It peeled off by degrees. He began by telling his wife, gravely enough, Sir Charles had met with a severe fall, and he had attended to him and taken him home.

"Ah, I am glad you did that, Richard," said Mrs. Bassett. "And is he very badly hurt?"

"I am afraid he will hardly get over it. He never spoke. He just groaned when they took him down from the cart at Huntercombe."

"Poor Lady Bassett!"

"Ay, it will be a bad job for her. Jane!"

"Yes, dear."

"There is a providence in it. The fall would never have killed him; but his head struck a tree upon the ground; and that tree was one of the very elms he had just cut down to rob our boy."


"Yes; he was felling the very hedgerow timber, and this was one of the old elms in a hedge. He must have done it out of spite, for elm-wood fetches no price; it is good for nothing I know of, except coffins. Well, he has cut down his."

"Poor man! Richard, death reconciles enemies. Surely you can forgive him now."

"I mean to try."

Richard Bassett seemed now to have imbibed the spirit of quicksilver. His occupations were not actually enlarged, yet, somehow or other, he seemed full of business. He was all complacent bustle about nothing. He left off inveighing against Sir Charles. And, indeed, if you are one of those weak spirits to whom censure is intolerable, there is a cheap and easy way to moderate the rancor of detraction--you have only to die. Let me comfort genius in particular with this little recipe.

Why, on one occasion, Bassett actually snubbed Wheeler for a mere allusion. That worthy just happened to remark, "No more felling of timber on Bassett Manor for a while."

"For shame!" said Richard. "The man had his faults, but he had his good qualities too: a high-spirited gentleman, beloved by his friends and respected by all the county. His successor will find it hard to reconcile the county to his loss."

Wheeler stared, and then grinned satirically.

This eulogy was never repeated, for Sir Charles proved ungrateful--he omitted to die, after all.

Attended by first-rate physicians, tenderly nursed and watched by Lady Bassett and Mary Wells, he got better by degrees; and every stage of his slow but hopeful progress was communicated to the servants and the village, and to the ladies and gentlemen who rode up to the door every day and left their cards of inquiry.

The most attentive of all these was the new rector, a young clergyman, who had obtained the living by exchange. He was a man highly gifted both in body and mind--a swarthy Adonis, whose large dark eyes from the very first turned with glowing admiration on the blonde beauties of Lady Bassett.

He came every day to inquire after her husband; and she sometimes left the sufferer a minute or two to make her report to him in person. At other times Mary Wells was sent to him. That artful girl soon discovered what had escaped her mistress's observation.

The bulletins were favorable, and welcomed on all sides.

Richard Bassett alone was incredulous. "I want to see him about again," said he. "Sir Charles is not the man to lie in bed if he was really better. As for the doctors, they flatter a fellow till the last moment. Let me see him on his legs, and then I'll believe he is better."

Strange to say, obliging Fate granted Richard Bassett this moderate request. One frosty but sunny afternoon, as he was inspecting his coming domain from "The Heir's Tower," he saw the Hall door open, and a muffled figure come slowly down the steps between two women: It was Sir Charles, feeble but convalescent. He crept about on the sunny gravel for about ten minutes, and then his nurses conveyed him tenderly in again.

This sight, which might have touched with pity a more generous nature, startled Richard Bassett, and then moved his bile. "I was a fool," said he; "nothing will ever kill that man. He will see me out; see us all out. And that Mary Wells nurses him, and I dare say in love with him by this time; the fools can't nurse a man without. Curse the whole pack of ye!" he yelled, and turned away in rage and disgust.

That same night he met Mary Wells, and, in a strange fit of jealousy, began to make hot protestations of love to her. He knew it was no use reproaching her, so he went on the other tack.

She received his vows with cool complacency, but would only stay a minute, and would only talk of her master and mistress, toward whom her heart was really warming in their trouble. She spoke hopefully, and said: "'Tisn't as if he was one of your faint-hearted ones as meet death half-way. Why, the second day, when he could scarce speak, he sees me crying by the bed, and says he, almost in a whisper, 'What are you crying for?' 'Sir,' says I, ''tis for you--to see you lie like a ghost.' 'Then you be wasting of salt-water,' says he. 'I wish I may, sir,' says I. So then he raised himself up a little bit. 'Look at me,' says he; 'I'm a Bassett. I am not the breed to die for a crack on the skull, and leave you all to the mercy of them that would have no mercy'--which he meant you, I suppose. So he ordered me to leave crying, which I behooved to obey; for he will be master, mind ye, while he have a finger to wag, poor dear gentleman, he will."

And, soon after this, she resisted all his attempts to detain her, and scudded back to the house, leaving Bassett to his reflections, which were exceedingly bitter.

Sir Charles got better, and at last used to walk daily with Lady Bassett. Their favorite stroll was up and down the lawn, close under the boundary wall he had built to shut out "The Heir's Walk."

The afternoon sun struck warm upon that wall and the walk by its side.

On the other side a nurse often carried little Dicky Bassett, the heir; but neither of the promenaders could see each other for the wall.

Richard Bassett, on the contrary, from "The Heir's Tower," could see both these little parties; and, as some men cannot keep away from what causes their pain, he used to watch these loving walks, and see Sir Charles get stronger and stronger, till at last, instead of leaning on his beloved wife, he could march by her side, or even give her his arm.

Yet the picture was, in a great degree, delusive; for, except during these blissful walks, when the sun shone on him, and Love and Beauty soothed him, Sir Charles was not the man he had been. The shake he had received appeared to have damaged his temper strangely. He became so irritable that several of his servants left him; and to his wife he repined; and his childless condition, which had been hitherto only a deep disappointment, became in his eyes a calamity that outweighed his many blessings. He had now narrowly escaped dying without an heir, and this seemed to sink into his mind, and, co-operating with the concussion his brain had received, brought him into a morbid state. He brooded on it, and spoke of it, and got back to it from every other topic, in a way that distressed Lady Bassett unspeakably. She consoled him bravely; but often, when she was alone, her gentle courage gave way, and she cried bitterly to herself.

Her distress had one effect she little expected; it completed what her invariable kindness had begun, and actually won the heart of a servant. Those who really know that tribe will agree with me that this was a marvelous conquest. Yet so it was; Mary Wells conceived for her a real affection, and showed it by unremitting attention, and a soft and tender voice, that soothed Lady Bassett, and drew many a silent but grateful glance from her dove-like eyes.

Mary listened, and heard enough to blame Sir Charles for his peevishness, and she began to throw out little expressions of dissatisfaction at him; but these were so promptly discouraged by the faithful wife that she drew in again and avoided that line. But one day, coming softly as a cat, she heard Sir Charles and Lady Bassett talking over their calamity. Sir Charles was saying that it was Heaven's curse; that all the poor people in the village had children; that Richard Bassett's weak, puny little wife had brought him an heir, and was about to make him a parent again; he alone was marked out and doomed to be the last of his race. "And yet," said he, "if I had married any other woman, and you had married any other man, we should have had children by the dozen, I suppose."

Upon the whole, though he said nothing palpably unjust, he had the tone of a man blaming his wife as the real cause of their joint calamity, under which she suffered a deeper, nobler, and more silent anguish than himself. This was hard to bear; and when Sir Charles went away, Mary Wells ran in, with an angry expression on the tip of her tongue.

She found Lady Bassett in a pitiable condition, lying rather than leaning on the table, with her hair loose about her, sobbing as if her heart would break.

All that was good in Mary Wells tugged at her heart-strings. She flung herself on her knees beside her, and seizing her mistress's hand, and drawing it to her bosom, fell to crying and sobbing along with her.

This canine devotion took Lady Bassett by surprise. She turned her tearful eyes upon her sympathizing servant, and said, "Oh, Mary!" and her soft hand pressed the girl's harder palm gratefully.

Mary spoke first. "Oh, my lady," she sobbed, "it breaks my heart to see you so. And what a shame to blame you for what is no fault of yourn. If I was your husband the cradles would soon be full in this house; but these fine gentlemen, they be old before their time with smoking of tobacco; and then to come and lay the blame on we!"

"Mary, I value you very much--more than I ever did a servant in my life; but if you speak against your master we shall part."

"La, my lady, I wouldn't for the world. Sir Charles is a perfect gentleman. Why, he gave me a sovereign only the other day for nursing of him; but he didn't ought to blame you for no fault of yourn, and to make you cry. It tears me inside out to see you cry; you that is so good to rich and poor. I wouldn't vex myself so for that: dear heart, 'twas always so; God sends meat to one house, and mouths to another."

"I could be patient if poor Sir Charles was not so unhappy," sighed Lady Bassett; "but if ever you are a wife, Mary, you will know how wretched it makes us to see a beloved husband unhappy."

"Then I'd make him happy," said Mary.

"Ah, if I only could!"

"Oh, I could tell you a way; for I have known it done; and now he is as happy as a prince. You see, my lady, some men are like children; to make them happy you must give them their own way; and so, if I was in your place, I wouldn't make two bites of a cherry, for sometimes I think he will fret himself out of the world for want on't."

"Heaven forbid!"

"It is my belief you would not be long behind him."

"No, Mary. Why should I?"

"Then--whisper, my lady!"

And, although Lady Bassett drew slightly back at this freedom, Mary Wells poured into her ear a proposal that made her stare and shiver.

As for the girl's own face, it was as unmoved as if it had been bronze.

Lady Bassett drew back, and eyed her askant with amazement and terror.

"What is this you have dared to say?"

"Why, it is done every day."

"By people of your class, perhaps. No; I don't believe it. Mary, I have been mistaken in you. I am afraid you are a vicious girl. Leave me, please. I can't bear the sight of you."

Mary went away, very red, and the tear in her eye.

In the evening Lady Bassett gave Mary Wells a month's warning, and Mary accepted it doggedly, and thought herself very cruelly used.

After this mistress and maid did not exchange an unnecessary word for many days.

This notice to leave was very bitter to Mary Wells, for she was in the very act of making a conquest. Young Drake, a very small farmer and tenant of Sir Charles, had fallen in love with her, and she liked him and had resolved he should marry her, with which view she was playing the tender but coy maiden very prettily. But Drake, though young and very much in love, was advised by his mother, and evidently resolved to go the old-fashioned way--keep company a year, and know the girl before offering the ring.

Just before her month was out a more serious trouble threatened Mary Wells.

Her low, artful amour with Richard Bassett had led to its natural results. By degrees she had gone further than she intended, and now the fatal consequences looked her in the face.

She found herself in an odious position; for her growing regard for young Drake, though not a violent attachment, was enough to set her more and more against Richard Bassett, and she was preparing an entire separation from the latter when the fatal truth dawned on her.

Then there was a temporary revulsion of feeling; she told her condition to Bassett, and implored him, with many tears, to aid her to disappear for a time and hide her misfortune, especially from her sister.

Mr. Bassett heard her, and then gave her an answer that made her blood run cold. "Why do you come to me?" said he. "Why don't you go to the right man--young Drake?"

He then told her he had had her watched, and she must not think to make a fool of him. She was as intimate with the young farmer as with him, and was in his company every day.

Mary Wells admitted that Drake was courting her, but said he was a civil, respectful young man, who desired to make her his wife. "You have lost me that," said she, bursting into tears; "and so, for God's sake, show yourself a man for once, and see me through my trouble."

The egotist disbelieved, or affected not to believe her, and said, "When there are two it is always the gentleman you girls deceive. But you can't make a fool of me, Mrs. Drake. Marry the farmer, and I'll give you a wedding present; that is all I can do for any other man's sweetheart. I have got my own family to provide for, and it is all I can contrive to make both ends meet."

He was cold and inflexible to her prayers. Then she tried threats. He laughed at them. Said he, "The time is gone by for that: if you wanted to sue me for breach of promise, you should have done it at once; not waited eighteen months and taken another sweetheart first. Come, come; you played your little game. You made me come here week after week and bleed a sovereign. A woman that loved a man would never have been so hard on him as you were on me. I grinned and bore it; but when you ask me to own another man's child, a man of your own sort that you are in love with--you hate me--that is a little too much: no, Mrs. Drake; if that is your game we will fight it out--before the public if you like." And, having delivered this with a tone of harsh and loud defiance, he left her--left her forever. She sat down upon the cold ground and rocked herself. Despair was cold at her heart.

She sat in that forlorn state for more than an hour. Then she got up and went to her mistress's room and sat by the fire, for her limbs were cold as well as her heart.

She sat there, gazing at the fire and sighing heavily, till Lady Bassett came up to bed. She then went through her work like an automaton, and every now and then a deep sigh came from her breast.

Lady Bassett heard her sigh, and looked at her. Her face was altered; a sort of sullen misery was written on it. Lady Bassett was quick at reading faces, and this look alarmed her. "Mary," said she, kindly, "is there anything the matter?"

No reply.

"Are you unwell?"


"Are you in trouble?"

"Ay!" with a burst of tears.

Lady Bassett let her cry, thinking it would relieve her, and then spoke to her again with the languid pensiveness of a woman who has also her trouble. "You have been very attentive to Sir Charles, and a kind good servant to me, Mary."

"You are mocking me, my lady," said Mary, bitterly. "You wouldn't have turned me off for a word if I had been a good servant."

Lady Bassett colored high, and was silenced for a moment. At last she said, "I feel it must seem harsh to you. You don't know how wicked it was to tempt me. But it is not as if you had done anything wrong. I do not feel bound to mention mere words: I shall give you an excellent character, Mary--indeed I have. I think I have got a good place for you. I shall know to-morrow, and when it is settled we will look over my wardrobe together."

This proposal implied a boxful of presents, and would have made Mary's dark eyes flash with delight at another time; but she was past all that now. She interrupted Lady Bassett with this strange speech: "You are very kind, my lady; will you lend me the key of your medicine chest?"

Lady Bassett looked surprised, but said, "Certainly, Mary," and held out the keys.

But, before Mary could take them, she considered a moment, and asked her what medicine she required.

"Only a little laudanum."

"No, Mary; not while you look like that, and refuse to tell me your trouble. I am your mistress, and must exert my authority for your good. Tell me at once what is the matter."

"I'd bite my tongue off sooner."

"You are wrong, Mary. I am sure I should be your best friend. I feel much indebted to you for the attention and the affection you have shown me, and I am grieved to see you so despondent. Make a friend of me. There--think it over, and talk to me again to-morrow."

Mary Wells took the true servant's view of Lady Bassett's kindness. She looked at it as a trap; not, indeed, set with malice prepense, but still a trap. She saw that Lady Bassett meant kindly at present; but, for all that, she was sure that if she told the truth, her mistress would turn against her, and say, "Oh! I had no idea your trouble arose out of your own imprudence. I can do nothing for a vicious girl."

She resolved therefore to say nothing, or else to tell some lie or other quite wide of the mark.

Deplorable as this young woman's situation was, the duplicity and coarseness of mind which had brought her into it would have somewhat blunted the mental agony such a situation must inflict; but it was aggravated by a special terror; she knew that if she was found out she would lose the only sure friend she had in the world.

The fact is, Mary Wells had seen a great deal of life during the two years she was out of the reader's sight. Rhoda had been very good to her; had set her up in a lodging-house, at her earnest request. She misconducted it, and failed: threw it up in disgust, and begged Rhoda to put her in the public line. Rhoda complied. Mary made a mess of the public-house. Then Rhoda showed her she was not fit to govern anything, and drove her into service again; and in that condition, having no more cares than a child, and plenty of work to do, and many a present from Rhoda, she had been happy.

But Rhoda, though she forgave blunders, incapacity for business, and waste of money, had always told her plainly there was one thing she never would forgive.

Rhoda Marsh had become a good Christian in every respect but one. The male rake reformed is rather tolerant; but the female rake reformed is, as a rule, bitterly intolerant of female frailty; and Rhoda carried this female characteristic to an extreme both in word and in deed. They were only half-sisters, after all; and Mary knew that she would be cast off forever if she deviated from virtue so far as to be found out.

Besides the general warning, there had been a special one. When she read Mary's first letter from Huntercombe Hall Rhoda was rather taken aback at first; but, on reflection, she wrote to Mary, saying she could stay there on two conditions: she must be discreet, and never mention her sister Rhoda in the house, and she must not be tempted to renew her acquaintance with Richard Bassett. "Mind," said she, "if ever you speak to that villain I shall hear of it, and I shall never notice you again."

This was the galling present and the dark future which had made so young and unsentimental a woman as Mary Wells think of suicide for a moment or two; and it now deprived her of her rest, and next day kept her thinking and brooding all the time her now leaden limbs were carrying her through her menial duties.

The afternoon was sunny, and Sir Charles and Lady Bassett took their usual walk.

Mary Wells went a little way with them, looking very miserable. Lady Bassett observed, and said, kindly, "Mary, you can give me that shawl; I will not keep you; go where you like till five o'clock."

Mary never said so much as "Thank you." She put the shawl round her mistress, and then went slowly back. She sat down on the stone steps, and glared stupidly at the scene, and felt very miserable and leaden. She seemed to be stuck in a sort of slough of despond, and could not move in any direction to get out of it.

While she sat in this somber reverie a gentleman walked up to the door, and Mary Wells lifted her head and looked at him. Notwithstanding her misery, her eyes rested on him with some admiration, for he was a model of a man: six feet high, and built like an athlete. His face was oval, and his skin dark but glowing; his hair, eyebrows, and long eyelashes black as jet; his gray eyes large and tender. He was dressed in black, with a white tie, and his clothes were well cut, and seemed superlatively so, owing to the importance and symmetry of the figure they covered. It was the new vicar, Mr. Angelo.

He smiled on Mary graciously, and asked her how Sir Charles was.

She said he was better.

Then Mr. Angelo asked, more timidly, was Lady Bassett at home.

"She is just gone out, sir."

A look of deep disappointment crossed Mr. Angelo's face. It did not escape Mary Wells. She looked at him full, and, lowering her voice a little, said, "She is only in the grounds with Sir Charles. She will be at home about five o'clock."

Mr. Angelo hesitated, and then said he would call again at five. He evidently preferred a duet to a trio. He then thanked Mary Wells with more warmth than the occasion seemed to call for, and retired very slowly: he had come very quickly.

Mary Wells looked after him, and asked herself wildly if she could not make some use of him and his manifest infatuation.

But before her mind could fix on any idea, and, indeed, before the young clergyman had taken twenty steps homeward, loud voices were heard down the shrubbery.

These were followed by an agonized scream.

Mary Wells started up, and the young parson turned: they looked at each other in amazement.

Then came wild and piercing cries for help--in a woman's voice.

The young clergyman cried out, "Her voice! her voice!" and dashed into the shrubbery with a speed Mary Wells had never seen equaled. He had won the 200-yard race at Oxford in his day.

The agonized screams were repeated, and Mary Wells screamed in response as she ran toward the place.


SIR CHARLES BASSETT was in high spirits this afternoon--indeed, a little too high.

"Bella, my love," said he, "now I'll tell you why I made you give me your signature this morning. The money has all come in for the wood, and this very day I sent Oldfield instructions to open an account for you with a London banker."

Lady Bassett looked at him with tears of tenderness in her eyes. "Dearest," said she, "I have plenty of money; but the love to which I owe this present, that is my treasure of treasures. Well, I accept it, Charles; but don't ask me to spend it on myself; I should feel I was robbing you."

"It is nothing to me how you spend it; I have saved it from the enemy."

Now that very enemy heard these words. He had looked from the "Heir's Tower," and seen Sir Charles and Lady Bassett walking on their side the wall, and the nurse carrying his heir on the other side.

He had come down to look at his child in the sun; but he walked softly, on the chance of overhearing Sir Charles and Lady Bassett say something or other about his health; his design went no further than that, but the fate of listeners is proverbial.

Lady Bassett endeavored to divert her husband from the topic he seemed to be approaching; it always excited him now, and did him harm.

"Do not waste your thoughts on that enemy. He is powerless."

"At this moment, perhaps; but his turn is sure to come again; and I shall provide for it. I mean to live on half my income, and settle the other half on you. I shall act on the clause in the entail, and sell all the timber on the estate, except about the home park and my best covers. It will take me some years to do this; I must not glut the market, and spoil your profits; but every year I'll have a fall, till I have denuded Mr. Bassett's inheritance, as he calls it, and swelled your banker's account to a Plum. Bella, I have had a shake. Even now that I am better such a pain goes through my head, like a bullet crushing through it, whenever I get excited. I don't think I shall be a long-lived man. But never mind, I'll live as long as I can; and, while I do live, I'll work for you, and against that villain."

"Charles," cried Lady Bassett, "I implore you to turn your thoughts away from that man, and to give up these idle schemes. Were you to die I should soon follow you; so pray do not shorten your life by these angry passions, or you will shorten mine."

This appeal acted powerfully on Sir Charles, and he left off suddenly with flushed cheeks and tried to compose himself.

But his words had now raised a corresponding fury on the other side of that boundary wall. Richard Bassett, stung with rage, and, unlike his high-bred cousin, accustomed to mix cunning even with his fury, gave him a terrible blow--a very coup de Jarnac. He spoke at him; he ran forward to the nurse, and said very loud: "Let me see the little darling. He does you credit. What fat cheeks!--what arms!--an infant hercules! There, take him up the mound. Now lift him in your arms, and let him see his inheritance. Higher, nurse, higher. Ay, crow away, youngster; all that is yours--house and land and all. They may steal the trees; they can't make away with the broad acres. Ha! I believe he understands every word, nurse. See how he smiles and crows."

At the sound of Bassett's voice Sir Charles started, and, at the first taunt, he uttered something between a moan and a roar, as of a wounded lion.

"Come away," cried Lady Bassett. "He is doing it on purpose."

But the stabs came too fast. Sir Charles shook her off, and looked wildly round for a weapon to strike his insulter with.

"Curse him and his brat!" he cried. "They shall neither of them-- I'll kill them both."

He sprang fiercely at the wall, and, notwithstanding his weakly condition, raised himself above it, and glared over with a face so full of fury that Richard Bassett recoiled in dismay for a moment, and said, "Run! run! He'll hurt the child!"

But, the next moment, Sir Charles's hands lost their power; he uttered a miserable moan, and fell gasping under the wall in an epileptic fit, with all the terrible symptoms I have described in a previous portion of this story. These were new to his poor wife, and, as she strove in vain to control his fearful convulsions, her shrieks rent the air. Indeed, her screams were so appalling that Bassett himself sprang at the wall, and, by a great effort of strength, drew himself up, and peered down, with white face, at the glaring eyes, clinched teeth, purple face, and foaming lips of his enemy, and his body that bounded convulsively on the ground with incredible violence.

At that moment humanity prevailed over every thing, and he flung himself over the wall, and in his haste got rather a heavy fall himself. "It is a fit!" he cried, and running to the brook close by, filled his hat with water, and was about to dash it over Sir Charles's face.

But Lady Bassett repelled him with horror. "Don't touch him, you villain! You have killed him." And then she shrieked again.

At this moment Mr. Angelo dashed up, and saw at a glance what it was, for he had studied medicine a little. He said, "It is epilepsy. Leave him to me." He managed, by his great strength, to keep the patient's head down till the face got pale and the limbs still; then, telling Lady Bassett not to alarm herself too much, he lifted Sir Charles, and actually proceeded to carry him toward the house. Lady Bassett, weeping, proffered her assistance, and so did Mary Wells; but this athlete said, a little bruskly, "No, no; I have practiced this sort of thing;" and, partly by his rare strength, partly by his familiarity with all athletic feats, carried the insensible baronet to his own house, as I have seen my accomplished friend Mr. Henry Neville carry a tall actress on the mimic stage; only, the distance being much longer, the perspiration rolled down Mr. Angelo's face with so sustained an effort.

He laid him gently on the floor of his study, while Lady Bassett sent two grooms galloping for medical advice, and half a dozen servants running for this and that stimulant, as one thing after another occurred to her agitated mind. The very rustling of dresses and scurry of feet overhead told all the house a great calamity had stricken it.

Lady Bassett hung over the sufferer, sighing piteously, and was for supporting his beloved head with her tender arm; but Mr. Angelo told her it was better to keep the head low, that the blood might flow back to the vessels of the brain.

She cast a look of melting gratitude on her adviser, and composed herself to apply stimulants under his direction and advice.

Thus judiciously treated, Sir Charles began to recover consciousness in part. He stared and muttered incoherently. Lady Bassett thanked God on her knees, and then turned to Mr. Angelo with streaming eyes, and stretched out both hands to him, with an indescribable eloquence of gratitude. He gave her his hands timidly, and she pressed them both with all her soul. Unconsciously she sent a rapturous thrill through the young man's body: he blushed, and then turned pale, and felt for a moment almost faint with rapture at that sweet and unexpected pressure of her soft hands.

But at this moment Sir Charles broke out in a sort of dry, business-like voice, "I'll kill the viper and his brood!" Then he stared at Mr. Angelo, and could not make him out at first. "Ah!" said he, complacently, "this is my private tutor: a man of learning. I read Homer with him; but I have forgotten it, all but one line--


"That's a beautiful verse. Homer, old boy, I'll take your advice. I'll kill the heir at law, and his brat as well, and when they are dead and well seasoned I'll sell them to that old timber-merchant, the devil, to make hell hotter. Order my horse, somebody, this minute!"

During this tirade Lady Bassett's hands kept clutching, as if to stop it, and her eyes filled with horror.

Mr. Angelo came again to her rescue. He affected to take it all as a matter of course, and told the servants they need not wait, Sir Charles was coming to himself by degrees, and the danger was all over.

But when the servants were gone he said to Lady Bassett, seriously, "I would not let any servant be about Sir Charles, except this one. She is evidently attached to you. Suppose we take him to his own room."

He then made Mary Wells a signal, and they carried him upstairs.

Sir Charles talked all the while with pitiable vehemence. Indeed, it was a continuous babble, like a brook.

Mary Wells was taking him into his own room, but Lady Bassett said, "No: into my room. Oh, I will never let him out of my sight again."

Then they carried him into Lady Bassett's bedroom, and laid him gently down on a couch there.

He looked round, observed the locality, and uttered a little sigh of complacency. He left off talking for the present, and seemed to doze.

The place which exerted this soothing influence on Sir Charles had a contrary and strange effect on Mr. Angelo.

It was of palatial size, and lighted by two side windows, and an oriel window at the end. The delicate stone shafts and mullions were such as are oftener seen in cathedrals than in mansions. The deep embrasure was filled with beautiful flowers and luscious exotic leaf-plants from the hot-houses. The floor was of polished oak, and some feet of this were left bare on all sides of the great Aubusson carpet made expressly for the room. By this means cleanliness penetrated into every corner: the oak was not only cleaned, but polished like a mirror. The curtains were French chintzes, of substance, and exquisite patterns, and very voluminous. On the walls was a delicate rose-tinted satin paper, to which French art, unrivaled in these matters, had given the appearance of being stuffed, padded, and divided into a thousand cozy pillows, by gold-headed nails.

The wardrobes were of satin-wood. The bedsteads, one small, one large, were plain white, and gold in moderation.

All this, however, was but the frame to the delightful picture of a wealthy young lady's nest.

The things that startled and thrilled Mr. Angelo were those his imagination could see the fair mistress using. The exquisite toilet table; the Dresden mirror, with its delicate china frame muslined and ribboned; the great ivory-handled brushes, the array of cut-glass gold-mounted bottles, and all the artillery of beauty; the baths of various shapes and sizes, in which she laved her fair body; the bath sheets, and the profusion of linen, fine and coarse; the bed, with its frilled sheets, its huge frilled pillows, and its eider-down quilt, covered with bright purple silk.

A delicate perfume came through the wardrobes, where strata of fine linen from Hamburg and Belfast lay on scented herbs; and this, permeating the room, seemed the very perfume of Beauty itself, and intoxicated the brain. Imagination conjured pictures proper to the scene: a goddess at her toilet; that glorious hair lying tumbled on the pillow, and burning in contrasted color with the snowy sheets and with the purple quilt.

From this reverie he was awakened by a soft voice that said, "How can I ever thank you enough, sir?"

Mr. Angelo controlled himself, and said, "By sending for me whenever I can be of the slightest use." Then, comprehending his danger, he added, hastily, "And I fear I am none whatever now." Then he rose to go.

Lady Bassett gave him both her hands again, and this time he kissed one of them, all in a flurry; he could not resist the temptation. Then he hurried away, with his whole soul in a tumult. Lady Bassett blushed, and returned to her husband's side.

Doctor Willis came, heard the case, looked rather grave and puzzled, and wrote the inevitable prescription; for the established theory is that man is cured by drugs alone.

Sir Charles wandered a little while the doctor was there, and continued to wander after he was gone.

Then Mary Wells begged leave to sleep in the dressing-room.

Lady Bassett thanked her, but said she thought it unnecessary; a good night's rest, she hoped, would make a great change in the sufferer.

Mary Wells thought otherwise, and quietly brought her little bed into the dressing-room and laid it on the floor.

Her judgment proved right; Sir Charles was no better the next day, nor the day after. He brooded for hours at a time, and, when he talked, there was an incoherence in his discourse; above all, he seemed incapable of talking long on any subject without coming back to the fatal one of his childlessness; and, when he did return to this, it was sure to make him either deeply dejected or else violent against Richard Bassett and his son; he swore at them, and said they were waiting for his shoes.

Lady Bassett's anxiety deepened; strange fears came over her. She put subtle questions to the doctor; he returned obscure answers, and went on prescribing medicines that had no effect.

She looked wistfully into Mary Wells's face, and there she saw her own thoughts reflected.

"Mary," said she, one day, in a low voice, "what do they say in the kitchen?"

"Some say one thing, some another. What can they say? They never see him, and never shall while I am here."

This reminded Lady Bassett that Mary's time was up. The idea of a stranger taking her place, and seeing Sir Charles in his present condition, was horrible to her. "Oh, Mary," said she, piteously, "surely you will not leave me just now?"

"Do you wish me to stay, my lady?"

"Can you ask it? How can I hope to find such devotion as yours, such fidelity, and, above all, such secrecy? Ah, Mary, I am the most unhappy lady in all England this day."

Then she began to cry bitterly, and Mary Wells cried with her, and said she would stay as long as she could; "but," said she, "I gave you good advice, my lady, and so you will find."

Lady Bassett made no answer whatever, and that disappointed Mary, for she wanted a discussion.


The days rolled on, and brought no change for the better. Sir Charles continued to brood on his one misfortune. He refused to go out-of-doors, even into the garden, giving as his reason that he was not fit to be seen. "I don't mind a couple of women," said he, gravely, "but no man shall see Charles Bassett in his present state. No. Patience! Patience! I'll wait till Heaven takes pity on me. After all, it would be a shame that such a race as mine should die out, and these fine estates go to blackguards, and poachers, and anonymous-letter writers."

Lady Bassett used to coax him to walk in the corridor; but, even then, he ordered Mary Wells to keep watch and let none of the servants come that way. From words he let fall it seems he thought "Childlessness" was written on his face, and that it had somehow degraded his features.

Now a wealthy and popular baronet could not thus immure himself for any length of time without exciting curiosity, and setting all manner of rumors afloat. Visitors poured into Huntercombe to inquire.

Lady Bassett excused herself to many, but some of her own sex she thought it best to encounter. This subjected her to the insidious attacks of curiosity admirably veiled with sympathy. The assailants were marvelously subtle; but so was the devoted wife. She gave kiss for kiss, and equivoque for equivoque. She seemed grateful for each visit; but they got nothing out of her except that Sir Charles's nerves were shaken by his fall, and that she was playing the tyrant for once, and insisting on absolute quiet for her patient.

One visitor she never refused--Mr. Angelo. He, from the first, had been her true friend; had carried Sir Charles away from the enemy, and then had dismissed the gaping servants. She saw that he had divined her calamity and she knew from things he said to her that he would never breathe a word out-of-doors. She confided in him. She told him Mr. Bassett was the real cause of all this misery: he had insulted Sir Charles. The nature of this insult she suppressed. "And oh, Mr. Angelo," said she, "that man is my terror night and day! I don't know what he can do, but I feel he will do something if he ever learns my poor husband's condition."

"I trust, Lady Bassett, you are convinced he will learn nothing from me. Indeed, I will tell the ruffian anything you like. He has been sounding me a little; called to inquire after his poor cousin--the hypocrite!"

"How good you are! Please tell him absolute repose is prescribed for a time, but there is no doubt of Sir Charles's ultimate recovery."

Mr. Angelo promised heartily.

Mary Wells was not enough; a woman must have a man to lean on in trouble, and Lady Bassett leaned on Mr. Angelo. She even obeyed him. One day he told her that her own health would fail if she sat always in the sick-room; she must walk an hour every day.

"Must I?" said she, sweetly.

"Yes, even if it is only in your own garden."

From that time she used to walk with him nearly every day.

Richard Bassett saw this from his tower of observation; saw it, and chuckled. "Aha!" said he. "Husband sick in bed. Wife walking in the garden with a young man--a parson, too. He is dark, she is fair. Something will come of this. Ha, ha!"

Lady Bassett now talked of sending to London for advice; but Mary Wells dissuaded her. "Physic can't cure him. There's only one can cure him, and that is yourself, my lady."

"Ah, would to Heaven I could!"

"Try my way, and you will see, my lady."

"What, that way! Oh, no, no!"

"Well, then, if you won't, nobody else can."

Such speeches as these, often repeated, on the one hand, and Sir Charles's melancholy on the other, drove Lady Bassett almost wild with distress and perplexity.

Meanwhile her vague fears of Richard Bassett were being gradually realized.

Bassett employed Wheeler to sound Dr. Willis as to his patient's condition.

Dr. Willis, true to the honorable traditions of his profession, would tell him nothing. But Dr. Willis had a wife. She pumped him: and Wheeler pumped her.

By this channel Wheeler got a somewhat exaggerated account of Sir Charles's state. He carried it to Bassett, and the pair put their heads together.

The consultation lasted all night, and finally a comprehensive plan of action was settled. Wheeler stipulated that the law should not be broken in the smallest particular, but only stretched.

Four days after this conference Mr. Bassett, Mr. Wheeler, and two spruce gentlemen dressed in black, sat upon the "Heir's Tower," watching Huntercombe Hall.

They watched, and watched, until they saw Mr. Angelo make his usual daily call.

Then they watched, and watched, until Lady Bassett and the young clergyman came out and strolled together into the shrubbery.

Then the two gentlemen went down the stairs, and were hastily conducted by Bassett to Huntercombe Hall.

They rang the bell, and the taller said, in a business-like voice, "Dr. Mosely, from Dr. Willis."

Mary Wells was sent for, and Dr. Mosely said, "Dr. Willis is unable to come to-day, and has sent me."

Mary Wells conducted him to the patient. The other gentleman followed.

"Who is this?" said Mary. "I can't let all the world in to see him."

"It is Mr. Donkyn, the surgeon. Dr. Willis wished the patient to be examined with the stethoscope. You can stay outside, Mr. Donkyn."

This new doctor announced himself to Sir Charles, felt his pulse, and entered at once into conversation with him.

Sir Charles was in a talking mood, and very soon said one or two inconsecutive things. Dr. Mosely looked at Mary Wells and said he would write a prescription.

As soon as he had written it he said, very loud, "Mr. Donkyn!"

The door instantly opened, and that worthy appeared on the threshold.

"Oblige me," said the doctor to his confrere, "by seeing this prescription made up; and you can examine the patient yourself; but do not fatigue him."

With this he retired swiftly, and strolled down the corridor, to wait for his companion.

He had not to wait long. Mr. Donkyn adopted a free and easy style with Sir Charles, and that gentleman marked his sense of the indignity by turning him out of the room, and kicking him industriously half-way down the passage.

Messrs. Mosely and Donkyn retired to Highmore.

Bassett was particularly pleased at the baronet having kicked Donkyn; so was Wheeler; so was Dr. Mosely. Donkyn alone did not share the general enthusiasm.

When Sir Charles had disposed of Mr. Donkyn he turned on Mary Wells, and rated her soundly for bringing strangers into his room to gratify their curiosity; and when Lady Bassett came in he made his formal complaint, concluding with a proposal that one of two persons should leave Huntercombe, forever, that afternoon--Mary Wells or Sir Charles Bassett.

Mary replied, not to him, but to her mistress, "He came from Dr. Willis, my lady. It was Dr. Mosely; and the other gent was a surgeon."

"Two medical men, sent by Dr. Willis?" said Lady Bassett, knitting her brow with wonder and a shade of doubt.

"A couple of her own sweethearts, sent by herself," suggested Sir Charles.

Lady Bassett sat down and wrote a hasty letter to Dr. Willis. "Send a groom with it, as fast as he can ride," said she; and she was much discomposed and nervous and impatient till the answer came bade.

Dr. Willis came in person. "I sent no one to take my place," said he. "I esteem my patient too highly to let any stranger prescribe for him or even see him--for a few days to come."

Lady Bassett sank into a chair, and her eloquent face filled with an undefinable terror.

Mary Wells, being on her defense, put in her word. "I am sure he was a doctor; for he wrote a prescription, and here 'tis."

Dr. Willis examined the prescription, with no friendly eye.

"Acetate of morphia! The very worst thing that could be given him. This is the favorite of the specialists. This fatal drug has eaten away a thousand brains for one it has ever benefited."

"Ah!" said Lady Bassett. "'Specialists!' what are they?"

"Medical men, who confine their practice to one disease."

"Mad-doctors, he means," said the patient, very gravely.

Lady Bassett turned very pale. "Then those were mad-doctors."

"Never you mind, Bella," said Sir Charles. "I kicked the fellow handsomely."

"I am sorry to hear it, Sir Charles."


Dr. Willis looked at Lady Bassett, as much as to say, "I shall not give him my real reason;" and then said, "I think it very undesirable you should be excited and provoked, until your health is thoroughly restored."

Dr. Willis wrote a prescription, and retired.

Lady Bassett sank into a chair, and trembled all over. Her divining fit was on her; she saw the hand of the enemy, and filled with vague fears.

Mary Wells tried to, comfort her. "I'll take care no more strangers get in here," said she. "And, my lady, if you are afraid, why not have the keepers, and two or three more, to sleep in the house? for, as for them footmen, they be too soft to fight."

"I will," said Lady Bassett; "but I fear it will be no use. Our enemy has so many resources unknown to me. How can a poor woman fight with a shadow, that comes in a moment and strikes; and then is gone and leaves his victim trembling?"

Then she slipped into the dressing-room and became hysterical, out of her husband's sight and hearing.

Mary Wells nursed her, and, when she was better, whispered in her ear, "Lose no more time, then. Cure him. You know the way."


IN the present condition of her mind these words produced a strange effect on Lady Bassett. She quivered, and her eyes began to rove in that peculiar way I have already noticed; and then she started up and walked wildly to and fro; and then she kneeled down and prayed; and then, alarmed, perplexed, exhausted, she went and leaned her head on her patient's shoulder, and wept softly a long time.

Some days passed, and no more strangers attempted to see Sir Charles.

Lady Bassett was beginning to breathe again, when she was afflicted by an unwelcome discovery.

Mary Wells fainted away so suddenly that, but for Lady Bassett's quick eye and ready hand, she would have fallen heavily.

Lady Bassett laid her head down and loosened her stays, and discovered her condition. She said nothing till the young woman was well, and then she taxed her with it.

Mary denied it plump; but, seeing her mistress's disgust at the falsehood, she owned it with many tears.

Being asked how she could so far forget herself, she told Lady Bassett she had long been courted by a respectable young man; he had come to the village, bound on a three years' voyage, to bid her good-by, and, what with love and grief at parting, they had been betrayed into folly; and now he was on the salt seas, little dreaming in what condition he had left her: "and," said she, "before ever he can write to me, and I to him, I shall be a ruined girl; that is why I wanted to put an end to myself; I will, too, unless I can find some way to hide it from the world."

Lady Bassett begged her to give up those desperate thoughts; she would think what could be done for her. Lady Bassett could say no more to her just then, for she was disgusted with her.

But when she came to reflect that, after all, this was not a lady, and that she appeared by her own account to be the victim of affection and frailty rather than of vice, she made some excuses; and then the girl had laid aside her trouble, her despair, and given her sorrowful mind to nursing and comforting Sir Charles. This would have outweighed a crime, and it made the wife's bowels yearn over the unfortunate girl. "Mary," said she, "others must judge you; I am a wife, and can only see your fidelity to my poor husband. I don't know what I shall do without you, but I think it is my duty to send you to him if possible. You are sure he really loves you?"

"Me cross the seas after a young man?" said Mary Wells. "I'd as lieve hang myself on the nighest tree and make an end. No, my lady, if you are really my friend, let me stay here as long as I can--I will never go downstairs to be seen--and then give me money enough to get my trouble over unbeknown to my sister; she is all my fear. She is married to a gentleman, and got plenty of money, and I shall never want while she lives, and behave myself; but she would never forgive me if she knew. She is a hard woman; she is not like you, my lady. I'd liever cut my hand off than I'd trust her as I would you."

Lady Bassett was not quite insensible to this compliment; but she felt uneasy.

"What, help you to deceive your sister?"

"For her good. Why, if any one was to go and tell her about me now, she'd hate them for telling her almost as much as she would hate me."

Lady Bassett was sore perplexed. Unable to see quite clear in the matter, she naturally reverted to her husband and his interest. That dictated her course. She said, "Well, stay with us, Mary, as long as you can; and then money shall not be wanting to hide your shame from all the world; but I hope when the time comes you will alter your mind and tell your sister. May I ask what her name is?"

Mary, after a moment's hesitation, said her name was Marsh.

"I know a Mrs. Marsh," said Lady Bassett; "but, of course, that is not your sister. My Mrs. Marsh is rather fair."

"So is my sister, for that matter."

"And tall?"

"Yes; but you never saw her. You'd never forget her it you had. She has got eyes like a lion."

"Ah! Does she ride?"

"Oh, she is famous for that; and driving, and all."

"Indeed! But no; I see no resemblance."

"Oh, she is only my half-sister."

"This is very strange."

Lady Bassett put her hand to her brow, and thought.

"Mary," said she, "all this is very mysterious. We are wading in deep waters."

Mary Wells had no idea what she meant.

The day was not over yet. Just before dinner-time a fly from the station drove to the door, and Mr. Oldfield got out.

He was detained in the hall by sentinel Moss.

Lady Bassett came down to him. At the very sight of him she trembled, and said, "Richard Bassett?"

"Yes," said Mr. Oldfield, "he is in the field again. He has been to the Court of Chancery ex parte, and obtained an injunction ad interim to stay waste. Not another tree must be cut down on the estate for the present."

"Thank Heaven it is no worse than that. Not another tree shall be felled on the grounds."

"Of course not. But they will not stop there. If we do not move to dissolve the injunction, I fear they will go on and ask the Court to administer the estate, with a view to all interests concerned, especially those of the heir at law and his son."

"What, while my husband lives?"

"If they can prove him dead in law."

"I don't understand you, Mr. Oldfield."

"They have got affidavits of two medical men that he is insane."

Lady Bassett uttered a faint scream, and put her hand to her heart.

"And, of course, they will use that extraordinary fall of timber as a further proof, and also as a reason why the Court should interfere to protect the heir at law. Their case is well got up and very strong," said Mr. Oldfield, regretfully.

"Well, but you are a lawyer, and you have always beaten them hitherto."

"I had law and fact on my side. It is not so now. To be frank, Lady Bassett, I don't see what I can do but watch the case, on the chance of some error or illegality. It is very hard to fight a case when you cannot put your client forward--and I suppose that would not be safe. How unfortunate that you have no children!"

"Children! How could they help us?"

"What a question! How could Richard Bassett move the Court if he was not the heir at law?"

After a long conference Mr. Oldfield returned to town to see what he could do in the way of procrastination, and Lady Bassett promised to leave no stone unturned to cure Sir Charles in the meantime. Mr. Oldfield was to write immediately if any fresh step was taken.

When Mr. Oldfield was gone, Lady Bassett pondered every word he had said, and, mild as she was, her rage began to rise against her husband's relentless enemy. Her wits worked, her eyes roved in that peculiar half-savage way I have described. She became intolerably restless; and any one acquainted with her sex might see that some strange conflict was going on in her troubled mind.

Every now and then she would come and cling to her husband, and cry over him; and that seemed to still the tumult of her soul a little.

She never slept all that night, and next day, clinging in her helpless agony to the nearest branch, she told Mary Wells what Bassett was doing, and said, "What shall I do? He is not mad; but he is in so very precarious a state that, if they get at him to torment him, they will drive him mad indeed."

"My lady," said Mary Wells, "I can't go from my word. 'Tis no use in making two bites of a cherry. We must cure him: and if we don't, you'll never rue it but once, and that will be all your life."

"I should look on myself with horror afterward were I to deceive him now."

"No, my lady, you are too fond of him for that. Once you saw him happy you'd be happy too, no matter how it came about. That Richard Bassett will turn him out of this else. I am sure he will; he is a hard-hearted villain."

Lady Bassett's eyes flashed fire; then her eyes roved; then she sighed deeply.

Her powers of resistance were beginning to relax. As for Mary Wells, she gave her no peace; she kept instilling her mind into her mistress's with the pertinacity of a small but ever-dripping fount, and we know both by science and poetry that small, incessant drops of water will wear a hole in marble.

"Gutta cavat lapidem non vi sed saepe cadendo."

And in the midst of all a letter came from Mr. Oldfield, to tell her that Mr. Bassett threatened to take out a commission de lunatico, and she must prepare Sir Charles for an examination; for, if reported insane, the Court would administer the estates; but the heir at law, Mr. Bassett, would have the ear of the Court and the right of application, and become virtually master of Huntercombe and Bassett; and, perhaps, considering the spirit by which he was animated, would contrive to occupy the very Hall itself. Lady Bassett was in the dressing-room when she received this blow, and it drove her almost frantic. She bemoaned her husband; she prayed God to take them both, and let their enemy have his will. She wept and raved, and at the height of her distress came from the other room a feeble cry, "Childless! childless! childless!"

Lady Bassett heard that, and in one moment, from violent she became unnaturally and dangerously calm. She said firmly to Mary Wells, "This is more than I can bear. You pretend you can save him--do it."

Mary Wells now trembled in her turn; but she seized the opportunity. "My lady, whatever I say you'll stand to?"

"Whatever you say I'll stand to."


MARY WELLS, like other uneducated women, was not accustomed to think long and earnestly on any one subject; to use an expression she once applied with far less justice to her sister, her mind was like running water.

But gestation affects the brains of such women, and makes them think more steadily, and sometimes very acutely; added to which, the peculiar dangers and difficulties that beset this girl during that anxious period stimulated her wits to the very utmost. Often she sat quite still for hours at a time, brooding and brooding, and asking herself how she could turn each new and unexpected event to her own benefit. Now so much does mental force depend on that exercise of keen and long attention, in which her sex is generally deficient, that this young woman's powers were more than doubled since the day she first discovered her condition, and began to work her brains night and day for her defense.

Gradually, as events I have related unfolded themselves, she caught a glimpse of this idea, that if she could get her mistress to have a secret, her mistress would help her to keep her own. Hence her insidious whispers, and her constant praises of Mr. Angelo, who, she saw, was infatuated with Lady Bassett. Yet the designing creature was actually fond of her mistress: and so strangely compounded is a heart of this low kind that the extraordinary step she now took was half affectionate impulse, half egotistical design.

She made a motion with her hand inviting Lady Bassett to listen, and stepped into Sir Charles's room.

"Childless! childless! childless!"

"Hush, sir," said Mary Wells. "Don't say so. We shan't be many mouths without one, please Heaven."

Sir Charles shook his head sadly.

"Don't you believe me?"


"What, did ever I tell you a lie?"

"No: but you are mistaken. She would have told me."

"Well, sir, my lady is young and shy, and I think she is afraid of disappointing you after all; for you know, sir, there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. But 'tis as I tell you, sir."

Sir Charles was much agitated, and said he would give her a hundred guineas if that was true. "Where is my darling wife? Why do I hear this through a servant?"

Mary Wells cast a look at the door, and said, for Lady Bassett to hear, "She is receiving company. Now, sir, I have told you good news; will you do something to oblige me? You shouldn't speak of it direct to my lady just yet; and if you want all to go well, you mustn't vex my lady as you are doing now. What I mean, you mustn't be so downhearted--there's no reason for't--and you mustn't coop yourself up on this floor: it sets the folks talking, and worries my lady. You should give her every chance, being the way she is."

Sir Charles said eagerly he would not vex her for the world. "I'll walk in the garden," said he; "but as for going abroad, you know I am not in a fit condition yet; my mind is clouded."

"Not as I see."

"Oh, not always. But sometimes a cloud seems to get into my head; and if I was in public I might do or say something discreditable. I would rather die."

"La, sir!" said Mary Wells, in a broad, hearty way--"a cloud in your head! You've had a bad fall, and a fit at top on't, and no wonder your poor head do ache at times. You'll outgrow that--if you take the air and give over fretting about the t'other thing. I tell you you'll hear the music of a child's voice and little feet a-pattering up and down this here corridor before so very long--if so be you take my advice, and leave off fretting my lady with fretting of yourself. You should consider: she is too fond of you to be well when you be ill."

"I'll get well for her sake," said Sir Charles, firmly.

At this moment there was a knock at the door. Mary Wells opened it so that the servant could see nothing.

"Mr. Angelo has called."

"My lady will be down directly."

Mary Wells then slipped into the dressing-room, and found Lady Bassett looking pale and wild. She had heard every word.

"There, he is better already," said Mary Wells. "He shall walk in the garden with you this afternoon."

"What have you done? I can't look him in the face now. Suppose he speaks to me?"

"He will not. I'll manage that. You won't have to say a word. Only listen to what I say, and don't make a liar of me. He is better already."

"How will this end?" cried Lady Bassett, helplessly. "What shall I do?"

"You must go downstairs, and not come here for an hour at least, or you'll spoil my work. Mr. Angelo is in the drawing-room."

"I will go to him."

Lady Bassett slipped out by the other door, and it was three hours, instead of one, before she returned.

For the first time in her life she was afraid to face her husband.


MEANTIME Mary Wells had a long conversation with her master; and after that she retired into the adjoining room, and sat down to sew baby-linen clandestinely.

After a considerable tune Lady Bassett came in, and, sinking into a chair, covered her face with her hands. She had her bonnet on.

Mary Wells looked at her with black eyes that flashed triumph.

After so surveying her for some time she said: "I have been at him again, and there's a change for the better already. He is not the same man. You go and see else."

Lady Bassett now obeyed her servant: she rose and crept like a culprit into Sir Charles's room. She found him clean shaved, dressed to perfection, and looking more cheerful than she had seen him for many a long day. "Ah, Bella," said he, "you have your bonnet on; let us have a walk in the garden."

Lady Bassett opened her eyes and consented eagerly, though she was very tired.

They walked together; and Sir Charles, being a man that never broke his word, put no direct question to Lady Bassett, but spoke cheerfully of the future, and told her she was his hope and his all; she would baffle his enemy, and cheer his desolate hearth.

She blushed, and looked confused and distressed; then he smiled, and talked of indifferent matters, until a pain in his head stopped him; then he became confused, and, putting his hand piteously to his head, proposed to retire at once to his own room.

Lady Bassett brought him in, and he reposed in silence on the sofa.

The next day, and, indeed, many days afterward, presented similar features.

Mary Wells talked to her master of the bright days to come, of the joy that would fill the house if all went well, and of the defeat in store for Richard Bassett. She spoke of this man with strange virulence; said "she would think no more of sticking a knife into him than of eating her dinner;" and in saying this she showed the white of her eye in a manner truly savage and vindictive.

To hurt the same person is a surer bond than to love the same person; and this sentiment of Mary Wells, coupled with her uniform kindness to himself, gave her great influence with Sir Charles in his present weakened condition. Moreover, the young woman had an oily, persuasive tongue; and she who persuades us is stronger than he who convinces us.

Thus influenced, Sir Charles walked every day in the garden with his wife, and forbore all direct allusion to her condition, though his conversation was redolent of it.

He was still subject to sudden collapses of the intellect; but he became conscious when they were coming on; and at the first warning he would insist on burying himself in his room.

After some days he consented to take short drives with Lady Bassett in the open carriage. This made her very joyful. Sir Charles refused to enter a single house, so high was his pride and so great his terror lest he should expose himself; but it was a great point gained that she could take him about the county, and show him in the character of a mere invalid.

Every thing now looked like a cure, slow, perhaps, but progressive; and Lady Bassett had her joyful hours, yet not without a bitter alloy: her divining mind asked itself what she should say and do when Sir Charles should be quite recovered. This thought tormented her, and sometimes so goaded her that she hated Mary Wells for her well-meant interference, and, by a natural recoil from the familiarity circumstances had forced on her, treated that young woman with great coldness and hauteur.

The artful girl met this with extreme meekness and servility; the only reply she ever hazarded was an adroit one; she would take this opportunity to say, "How much better master do get ever since I took in hand to cure him!"

This oblique retort seldom failed. Lady Bassett would look at her husband, and her face would clear; and she would generally end by giving Mary a collar, or a scarf, or something.

Thus did circumstances enable the lower nature to play with the higher. Lady Bassett's struggles were like those of a bird in a silken net; they led to nothing. When it came to the point she could neither do nor say any thing to retard his cure. Any day the Court of Chancery, set in motion by Richard Bassett, might issue a commission de lunatico, and, if Sir Charles was not cured by that time, Richard Bassett would virtually administer the estate--so Mr. Oldfield had told her--and that, she felt sure, would drive Sir Charles mad for life.

So there was no help for it. She feared, she writhed, she hated herself; but Sir Charles got better daily, and so she let herself drift along.

Mary Wells made it fatally easy to her. She was the agent. Lady Bassett was silent and passive.

After all she had a hope of extrication. Sir Charles once cured, she would make him travel Europe with her. Money would relieve her of Mary Wells, and distance cut all the other cords.

And, indeed, a time came when she looked back on her present situation with wonder at the distress it had caused her. "I was in shallow water then," said she--"but now!"


SIR CHARLES observed that he was never trusted alone. He remarked this, and inquired, with a peculiar eye, why that was.

Lady Bassett had the tact to put on an innocent look and smile, and say: "That is true, dearest. I have tied you to my apron-string without mercy. But it serves you right for having fits and frightening me. You get well, and my tyranny will cease at once."

However, after this she often left him alone in the garden, to remove from his mind the notion that he was under restraint from her.

Mr. Bassett observed this proceeding from his tower.

One day Mr. Angelo called, and Lady Bassett left Sir Charles in the garden, to go and speak to him.

She had not been gone many minutes when a boy ran to Sir Charles, and said, "Oh, sir, please come to the gate; the lady has had a fall, and hurt herself."

Sir Charles, much alarmed, followed the boy, who took him to a side gate opening on the high-road. Sir Charles rushed through this, and was passing between two stout fellows that stood one on each side the gate, when they seized him, and lifted him in a moment into a close carriage that was waiting on the spot. He struggled, and cried loudly for assistance; but they bundled him in and sprang in after him; a third man closed the door, and got up by the side of the coachman. He drove off, avoiding the village, soon got upon a broad road, and bowled along at a great rate, the carriage being light, and drawn by two powerful horses.

So cleverly and rapidly was it done that, but for a woman's quick ear, the deed might not have been discovered for hours; but Mary Wells heard the cry for help through an open window, recognized Sir Charles's voice, and ran screaming downstairs to Lady Bassett: she ran wildly out, with Mr. Angelo, to look for Sir Charles. He was nowhere to be found. Then she ordered every horse in the stables to be saddled; and she ran with Mary to the place where the cry had been heard.

For some time no intelligence whatever could be gleaned; but at last an old man was found who said he had heard somebody cry out, and soon after that a carriage had come tearing by him, and gone round the corner: but this direction was of little value, on account of the many roads, any one of which it might have taken.

However, it left no doubt that Sir Charles had been taken away from the place by force.

Terror-stricken, and pale as death, Lady Bassett never lost her head for a moment. Indeed, she showed unexpected fire; she sent off coachman and grooms to scour the country and rouse the gentry to help her; she gave them money, and told them not to come back till they had found Sir Charles.

Mr. Angelo said, eagerly, "I'll go to the nearest magistrate, and we will arrest Richard Bassett on suspicion."

"God bless you, dear friend!" sobbed Lady Bassett. "Oh, yes, it is his doing--murderer!"

Off went Mr. Angelo on his errand.

He was hardly gone when a man was seen running and shouting across the fields. Lady Bassett went to meet him, surrounded by her humble sympathizers. It was young Drake: he came up panting, with a double-barreled gun in his hand (for he was allowed to shoot rabbits on his own little farm), and stammered out, "Oh, my lady--Sir Charles--they have carried him off against his will!"

"Who? Where? Did you see him?"

"Ay, and heerd him and all. I was ferreting rabbits by the side of the turnpike-road yonder, and a carriage came tearing along, and Sir Charles put out his head and cried to me,' Drake, they are kidnapping me. Shoot!' But they pulled him back out of sight."

"Oh, my poor husband! And did you let them? Oh!"

"Couldn't catch 'em, my lady: so I did as I was bid; got to my gun as quick as ever I could, and gave the coachman both barrels hot."

"What, kill him?"

"Lord, no; 'twas sixty yards off; but made him holler and squeak a good un. Put thirty or forty shots into his back, I know."

"Give me your hand, Mr. Drake. I'll never forget that shot." Then she began to cry.

"Doant ye, my lady, doant ye," said the honest fellow, and was within an ace of blubbering for sympathy. "We ain't a lot o' babies, to see our squire kidnaped. If you would lend Abel Moss there and me a couple o' nags, we'll catch them yet, my lady."

"That we will," cried Abel. "You take me where you fired that shot, and we'll follow the fresh wheel-tracks. They can't beat us while they keep to a road."

The two men were soon mounted, and in pursuit, amid the cheers of the now excited villagers. But still the perpetrators of the outrage had more than an hour's start; and an hour was twelve miles.

And now Lady Bassett, who had borne up so bravely, was seized with a deadly faintness, and supported into the house.

All this spread like wild-fire, and roused the villagers, and they must have a hand in it. Parson had said Mr. Bassett was to blame; and that passed from one to another, and so fermented that, in the evening, a crowd collected round Highmore House and demanded Mr. Bassett.

The servants were alarmed, and said he was not at home.

Then the men demanded boisterously what he had done with Sir Charles, and threatened to break the windows unless they were told; and, as nobody in the house could tell them, the women egged on the men, and they did break the windows; but they no sooner saw their own work than they were a little alarmed at it, and retired, talking very loud to support their waning courage and check their rising remorse at their deed.

They left a house full of holes and screams, and poor little Mrs. Bassett half dead with fright.

As for Lady Bassett, she spent a horrible night of terror, suspense, and agony. She could not lie down, nor even sit still; she walked incessantly, wringing her hands, and groaning for news.

Mary Wells did all she could to comfort her; but it was a situation beyond the power of words to alleviate.

Her intolerable suspense lasted till four o'clock in the morning; and then, in the still night, horses' feet came clattering up to the door.

Lady Bassett went into the hall. It was dimly lighted by a single lamp. The great door was opened, and in clattered Moss and Drake, splashed and weary and downcast.

"Well?" cried Lady Bassett, clasping her hands.

"My lady," said Moss, "we tracked the carriage into the next county, to a place thirty miles from here--to a lodge--and there they stopped us. The place is well guarded with men and great big dogs. We heerd 'em bark, didn't us, Will?"

"Ay," said Drake, dejectedly.

"The man as kept the lodge was short, but civil. Says he, 'This is a place nobody comes in but by law, and nobody goes out but by law. If the gentleman is here you may go home and sleep; he is safe enough.'"

"A prison? No!"

"A 'sylum, my lady."


THE lady put her hand to her heart, and was silent a long time.

At last she said, doggedly but faintly, "You will go with me to that place to-morrow, one of you."

"I'll go, my lady," said Moss. "Will, here, had better not show his face. They might take the law on him for that there shot."

Drake hung his head, and his ardor was evidently cooled by discovering that Sir Charles had been taken to a mad-house.

Lady Bassett saw and sighed, and said she would take Moss to show her the way.

At eleven o'clock next morning a light carriage and pair came round to the Hall gate, and a large basket, a portmanteau, and a bag were placed on the roof under care of Moss; smaller packages were put inside; and Lady Bassett and her maid got in, both dressed in black.

They reached Bellevue House at half-past two. The lodge-gate was open, to Lady Bassett's surprise, and they drove through some pleasant grounds to a large white house.

The place at first sight had no distinctive character: great ingenuity had been used to secure the inmates without seeming to incarcerate them. There were no bars to the lower front windows, and the side windows, with their defenses, were shrouded by shrubs. The sentinels were out of sight, or employed on some occupation or other, but within call. Some patients were playing at cricket; some ladies looking on; others strolling on the gravel with a nurse, dressed very much like themselves, who did not obtrude her functions unnecessarily. All was apparent indifference, and Argus-eyed vigilance. So much for the surface.

Of course, even at this moment, some of the locked rooms had violent and miserable inmates.

The hall door opened as the carriage drew up; a respectable servant came forward.

Lady Bassett handed him her card, and said, "I am come to see my husband, sir."

The man never moved a muscle, but said, "You must wait, if you please, till I take your card in."

He soon returned, and said, "Dr. Suaby is not here, but the gentleman in charge will see you."

Lady Bassett got out, and, beckoning Mary Wells, followed the servant into a curious room, half library, half chemist's shop; they called it "the laboratory."

Here she found a tall man leaning on a dirty mantelpiece, who received her stiffly. He had a pale mustache, very thin lips, and altogether a severe manner. His head bald, rather prematurely, and whiskers abundant.

Lady Bassett looked him all over with one glance of her woman's eye, and saw she had a hard and vain man to deal with.

"Are you the gentleman to whom this house belongs?" she faltered.

"No, madam; I am in charge during Dr. Suaby's absence."

"That comes to the same thing. Sir, I am come to see my dear husband."

"Have you an order?"

"An order, sir? I am his wife."

Mr. Salter shrugged his shoulders a little, and said, "I have no authority to let any visitor see a patient without an order from the person by whose authority he is placed here, or else an order from the commissioners."

"But that cannot apply to his wife; to her who is one with him, for better for worse, in sickness or health."

"It seems hard; but I have no discretion in the matter. The patient only came yesterday--much excited. He is better to-day, and an interview with you would excite him again."

"Oh no! no! no! I can always soothe him. I will be so mild, so gentle. You can be present, and hear every word I say. I will only kiss him, and tell him who has done this, and to be brave, for his wife watches over him; and, sir, I will beg him to be patient, and not blame you nor any of the people here."

"Very proper, very proper; but really this interview must be postponed till you have an order, or Dr. Suaby returns. He can violate his own rules if he likes; but I cannot, and, indeed, I dare not."

"Dare not let a lady see her husband? Then you are not a man. Oh, can this be England? It is too inhuman."

Then she began to cry and wring her hands.

"This is very painful," said Mr. Salter, and left the room.

The respectable servant looked in soon after, and Lady Bassett told him, between her sobs, that she had brought some clothes and things for her husband. "Surely, sir," said she, "they will not refuse me that?"

"Lord, no, ma'am," said the man. "You can give them to the keeper and nurse in charge of him."

Lady Bassett slipped a guinea into the man's hand directly. "Let me see those people," said she.

The man winked, and vanished: he soon reappeared, and said, loudly, "Now, madam, if you will order the things into the hall."

Lady Bassett came out and gave the order.

A short, bull-necked man, and rather a pretty young woman with a flaunting cap, bestirred themselves getting down the things; and Mr. Salter came out and looked on.

Lady Bassett called Mary Wells, and gave her a five-pound note to slip into the man's hand. She telegraphed the girl, who instantly came near her with an India rubber bath, and, affecting ignorance, asked her what that was.

Lady Bassett dropped three sovereigns into the bath, and said, "Ten times, twenty times that, if you are kind to him. Tell him it is his cousin's doing, but his wife watches over him."

"All right," said the girl. "Come again when the doctor is here."

All this passed, in swift whispers, a few yards from Mr. Salter, and he now came forward and offered his arm to conduct Lady Bassett to the carriage.

But the wretched, heart-broken wife forgot her art of pleasing. She shrank from him with a faint cry of aversion, and got into her carriage unaided. Mary Wells followed her.

Mr. Salter was unwilling to receive this rebuff. He followed, and said, "The clothes shall be given, with any message you may think fit to intrust to me."

Lady Bassett turned away sharply from him, and said to Mary Wells, "Tell him to drive home. Home! I have none now. Its light is torn from me."

The carriage drove away as she uttered these piteous words.

She cried at intervals all the way home; and could hardly drag herself upstairs to bed.

Mr. Angelo called next day with bad news. Not a magistrate would move a finger against Mr. Bassett: he had the law on his side. Sir Charles was evidently insane; it was quite proper he should be put in security before he did some mischief to himself or Lady Bassett. "They say, why was he hidden for two months, if there was not something very wrong?"

Lady Bassett ordered the carriage and paid several calls, to counteract this fatal impression.

She found, to her horror, she might as well try to move a rock. There was plenty of kindness and pity; but the moment she began to assure them her husband was not insane she was met with the dead silence of polite incredulity. One or two old friends went further, and said, "My dear, we are told he could not be taken away without two doctors' certificates: now, consider, they must know better than you. Have patience, and let them cure him."

Lady Bassett withdrew her friendship on the spot from two ladies for contradicting her on such a subject; she returned home almost wild herself.

In the village her carriage was stopped by a woman with her hair all flying, who told her, in a lamentable voice, that Squire Bassett had sent nine men to prison for taking Sir Charles's part and ill-treating his captors.

"My lawyer shall defend them at my expense," said Lady Bassett, with a sigh.

At last she got home, and went up to her own room, and there was Mary Wells waiting to dress her.

She tottered in, and sank into a chair. But, after this temporary exhaustion, came a rising tempest of passion; her eyes roved, her fingers worked, and her heart seemed to come out of her in words of fire. "I have not a friend in all the county. That villain has only to say 'Mad,' and all turn from me, as if an angel of truth had said 'Criminal.' We have no friend but one, and she is my servant. Now go and envy wealth and titles. No wife in this parish is so poor as I; powerless in the folds of a serpent. I can't see my husband without an order from him. He is all power, I and mine all weakness." She raised her clinched fists, she clutched her beautiful hair as if she would tear it out by the roots. "I shall, go mad! I shall go mad! No!" said she, all of a sudden. "That will not do. That is what he wants--and then my darling would be defenseless. I will not go mad." Then suddenly grinding her white teeth: "I'll teach him to drive a lady to despair. I'll fight."

She descended, almost without a break, from the fury of a Pythoness to a strange calm. Oh! then it is her sex are dangerous.

"Don't look so pale," said she, and she actually smiled. "All is fair against so foul a villain. You and I will defeat him. Dress me, Mary."

Mary Wells, carried away by the unusual violence of a superior mind, was quite bewildered.

Lady Bassett smiled a strange smile, and said, "I'll show you how to dress me;" and she did give her a lesson that astonished her.

"And now," said Lady Bassett, "I shall dress you." And she took a loose full dress out of her wardrobe, and made Mary Wells put it on; but first she inserted some stuffing so adroitly that Mary seemed very buxom, but what she wished to hide was hidden. Not so Lady Bassett herself. Her figure looked much rounder than in the last dress she wore.

With all this she was late for dinner, and when she went down Mr. Angelo had just finished telling Mr. Oldfield of the mishap to the villagers.

Lady Bassett came in animated and beautiful.

Dinner was announced directly, and a commonplace conversation kept up till the servants were got rid of. She then told Mr. Oldfield how she had been refused admittance to Sir Charles at Bellevue House, a plain proof, to her mind, they knew her husband was not insane; and begged him to act with energy, and get Sir Charles out before his reason could be permanently injured by the outrage and the horror of his situation.

This led to a discussion, in which Mr. Angelo and Lady Bassett threw out various suggestions, and Mr. Oldfield cooled their ardor with sound objections. He was familiar with the Statutes de Lunatico, and said they had been strictly observed both in the capture of Sir Charles and in Mr. Salter's refusal to let the wife see the husband. In short, he appeared either unable or unwilling to see anything except the strong legal position of the adverse party.

Mr. Oldfield was one of those prudent lawyers who search for the adversary's strong points, that their clients may not be taken by surprise; and that is very wise of them. But wise things require to be done wisely: he sometimes carried this system so far as to discourage his client too much. It is a fine thing to make your client think his case the weaker of the two, and then win it for him easily; that gratifies your own foible, professional vanity. But suppose, with your discouraging him so, he flings up or compromises a winning case? Suppose he takes the huff and goes to some other lawyer, who will warm him with hopes instead of cooling him with a one-sided and hostile view of his case?

In the present discussion Mr. Oldfield's habit of beginning by admiring his adversaries, together with his knowledge of law and little else, and his secret conviction that Sir Charles was unsound of mind, combined to paralyze him; and, not being a man of invention, he could not see his way out of the wood at all; he could negative Mr. Angelo's suggestions and give good reasons, but he could not, or did not, suggest anything better to be done.

Lady Bassett listened to his negative wisdom with a bitter smile, and said, at last, with a sigh: "It seems, then, we are to sit quiet and do nothing, while Mr. Bassett and his solicitor strike blow upon blow. There! I'll fight my own battle; and do you try and find some way of defending the poor souls that are in trouble because they did not sit with their hands before them when their benefactor was outraged. Command my purse, if money will save them from prison."

Then she rose with dignity, and walked like a camelopard all down the room on the side opposite to Mr. Oldfield. Angelo flew to open the door, and in a whisper begged a word with her in private. She bowed ascent, and passed on from the room.

"What a fine creature!" said Mr. Oldfield. "How she walks!"

Mr. Angelo made no reply to this, but asked him what was to be done for the poor men: "they will be up before the Bench to-morrow."

Stung a little by Lady Bassett's remark, Mr. Oldfield answered, promptly, "We must get some tradesmen to bail them with our money. It will only be a few pounds apiece. If the bail is accepted, they shall offer pecuniary compensation, and get up a defense; find somebody to swear Sir Charles was sane--that sort of evidence is always to be got. Counsel must do the rest. Simple natives--benefactor outraged--honest impulse--regretted, the moment they understood the capture had been legally made. Then throw dirt on the plaintiff. He is malicious, and can be proved to have forsworn himself in Bassett v. Bassett."

A tap at the door, and Mary Wells put in her head. "If you please, sir, my lady is tired, and she wishes to say a word to you before she goes upstairs."

"Excuse me one minute," said Mr. Angelo, and followed Mary Wells. She ushered him into a boudoir, where he found Lady Bassett seated in an armchair, with her head on her hand, and her eyes fixed sadly on the carpet.

She smiled faintly, and said, "Well, what do you wish to say to me?"

"It is about Mr. Oldfield. He is clearly incompetent."

"I don't know. I snubbed him, poor man: but if the law is all against us!"

"How does he know that? He assumes it because he is prejudiced in favor of the enemy. How does he know they have done everything the Act of Parliament requires? And, if they have, Law is not invincible. When Law defies Morality, it gets baffled, and trampled on in all civilized communities."

"I never heard that before."

"But you would if you had been at Oxford," said he, smiling.


"What we want is a man of genius, of invention; a man who will see every chance, take every chance, lawful or unlawful, and fight with all manner of weapons."

Lady Bassett's eye flashed a moment. "Ah!" said she; "but where can I find such a man, with knowledge to guide his zeal?"

"I think I know of a man who could at all events advise you, if you would ask him."

"Ah! Who?"

"He is a writer; and opinions vary as to his merit. Some say he has talent; others say it is all eccentricity and affectation. One thing is certain--his books bring about the changes he demands. And then he is in earnest; he has taken a good many alleged lunatics out of confinement."

"Is it possible? Then let us apply to him at once."

"He lives in London; but I have a friend who knows him. May I send an outline to him through that friend, and ask him whether he can advise you in the matter?"

"You may; and thank you a thousand times!"

"A mind like that, with knowledge, zeal, and invention, must surely throw some light."

"One would think so, dear friend."

"I'll write to-night and send a letter to Greatrex; we shall perhaps get an answer the day after to-morrow."

"Ah! you are not the one to go to sleep in the service of a friend. A writer, did you say? What does he write?"


"What, novels?"

"And dramas and all."

Lady Bassett sighed incredulously. "I should never think of going to Fiction for wisdom."

"When the Family Calas were about to be executed unjustly, with the consent of all the lawyers and statesmen in France, one man in a nation saw the error, and fought for the innocent, and saved them; and that one wise man in a nation of fools was a writer of fiction."

"Oh! a learned Oxonian can always answer a poor ignorant thing like me. One swallow does not make summer, for all that."

"But this writer's fictions are not like the novels you read; they are works of laborious research. Besides, he is a lawyer, as well as a novelist."

"Oh, if he is a lawyer!"

"Then I may write?"

"Yes," said Lady Bassett, despondingly.

"What is to become of Oldfield?"

"Send him to the drawing-room. I will go down and endure him for another hour. You can write your letter here, and then please come and relieve me of Mr. Negative."

She rang, and ordered coffee and tea into the drawing-room; and Mr. Oldfield found her very cold company.

In half an hour Mr. Angelo came down, looking flushed and very handsome; and Lady Bassett had some fresh tea made for him.

This done she bade the gentlemen goodnight, and went to her room. Here she found Mary Wells full of curiosity to know whether the lawyer would get Sir Charles out of the asylum.

Lady Bassett gave loose to her indignation, and said nothing was to be expected from such a Nullity. "Mary, he could not see. I gave him every opportunity. I walked slowly down the room before him after dinner; and I came into the drawing-room and moved about, and yet he could not see."

"Then you will have to tell him, that is all."

"Never; no more shall you. I'll not trust my fate, and Sir Charles's, to a man that has no eyes."

For this feminine reason she took a spite against poor Oldfield; but to Mr. Angelo she suppressed the real reason, and entered into that ardent gentleman's grounds of discontent, though these alone would not have entirely dissolved her respect for the family solicitor.

Next afternoon Angelo came to her in great distress and ire. "Beaten! beaten! and all through our adversaries having more talent. Mr. Bassett did not appear at first. Wheeler excused him on the ground that his wife was seriously ill through the fright. Bassett's servants were called, and swore to the damage and to the men, all but one. He got off. Then Oldfield made a dry speech; and a tradesman he had prepared offered bail. The magistrates were consulting, when in burst Mr. Bassett all in black, and made a speech fifty times stronger than Oldfield's, and sobbed, and told them the rioters had frightened his wife so she had been prematurely confined, and the child was dead. Could they take bail for a riot, a dastardly attack by a mob of cowards on a poor defenseless woman, the gentlest and most inoffensive creature in England? Then he went on: 'They were told I was not in the house; and then they found courage to fling stones, to terrify my wife and kill my child. Poor soul!' he said, 'she lies between life and death herself: and I come here in an agony of fear, but I come for justice; the man of straw, who offers bail, is furnished with the money by those who stimulated the outrage. Defeat that fraud, and teach these cowards who war on defenseless ladies that there is humanity and justice and law in the land.' Then Oldfield tried to answer him with his hems and his haws; but Bassett turned on him like a giant, and swept him away."

"Poor woman!"

"Ah! that is true: I am afraid I have thought too little of her. But you suffer, and so must she. It is the most terrible feud; one would think this was Corsica instead of England, only the fighting is not done with daggers. But, after this, pray lean no more on that Oldfield. We were all carried away at first; but, now I think of it, Bassett must have been in the court, and held back to make the climax. Oh, yes! it was another surprise and another success. They are all sent to jail. Superior generalship! If Wheeler had been our man, we should have had eight wives crying for pity, each with one child in her arms, and another holding on to her apron. Do, pray, Lady Bassett, dismiss that Nullity."

"Oh, I cannot do that; he is Sir Charles's lawyer; but I have promised you to seek advice elsewhere, and so I will."

The conversation was interrupted by the tolling of the church-bell.

The first note startled Lady Bassett, and she turned pale.

"I must leave you," said Angelo, regretfully. "I have to bury Mr. Bassett's little boy; he lived an hour."

Lady Bassett sat and heard the bell toll.

Strange, sad thoughts passed through her mind. "Is it saddest when it tolls, or when it rings--that bell? He has killed his own child by robbing me of my husband. We are in the hands of God, after all, let Wheeler be ever so cunning, and Oldfield ever so simple.-- And I am not acting by that.--Where is my trust in God's justice?--Oh, thou of little faith!--What shall I do? Love is stronger in me than faith--stronger than anything in heaven or earth. God forgive me--God help me--I will go back.

"But oh, to stand still, and be good and simple, and to see my husband trampled on by a cunning villain!

'"Why is there a future state, where everything is to be different? no hate; no injustice; all love. Why is it not all of a piece? Why begin wrong if it is to end all right? If I was omnipotent it should be right from the first.--Oh, thou of little faith!--Ah, me! it is hard to see fools and devils, and realize angels unseen. Oh, that I could shut my eyes in faith and go to sleep, and drift on the right path; for I shall never take it with my eyes open, and my heart bleeding for him."

Then her head fell languidly back, her eyes closed, and the tears welled through them: they knew the way by this time.


NEXT morning in came Mr. Angelo, with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes.

"I have got a letter, a most gratifying one. My friend called on Mr. Rolfe, and gave him my lines; and he replies direct to me. May I read you his letter?"

"Oh, yes."

"'DEAR SIR--The case you have sent me, of a gentleman confined on certificates by order of an interested relative--as you presume, for you have not seen the order--and on grounds you think insufficient, is interesting, and some of it looks true; but there are gaps in the statement, and I dare not advise in so nice a matter till these are filled; but that, I suspect, can only be done by the lady herself. She had better call on me in person; it may be worth her while. At home every day, 10--3, this week. As for yourself, you need not address me through Greatrex. I have seen you pull No. 6, and afterward stroke in the University boat, and you dived in Portsmouth Harbor, and saved a sailor. See "Ryde Journal," Aug. 10, p. 4, col. 3; cited in my Day-book Aug. 10, and also in my Index hominum, in voce "Angelo"--ha! ha! here's a fellow for detail!

"Yours very truly,



"And did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Dive and save a sailor."

"No; I nailed him just as he was sinking."

"How good and brave you are!"

Angelo blushed like a girl. "It makes me too happy to hear such words from you. But I vote we don't talk about me. Will you call on Mr. Rolfe?"

"Is he married?"

Angelo opened his eyes at the question. "I think not," said he. "Indeed, I know he is not."

"Could you get him down here?"

Angelo shook his head. "If he knew you, perhaps; but can you expect him to come here upon your business? These popular writers are spoiled by the ladies. I doubt if he would walk across the street to advise a stranger. Candidly, why should he?"

"No; and it was ridiculous vanity to suppose he would. But I never called on a gentleman in my life."

"Take me with you. You can go up at nine, and be back to a late dinner."

"I shall never have the courage to go. Let me have his letter."

He gave her the letter, and she took it away.

At six o'clock she sent Mary Wells to Mr. Angelo, with a note to say she had studied Mr. Rolfe's letter, and there was more in it than she had thought; but his going off from her husband to boat-racing seemed trivial, and she could not make up her mind to go to London to consult a novelist on such a serious matter.

At nine she sent to say she should go, but could not think of dragging him there: she should take her maid.

Before eleven, she half repented this resolution, but her maid kept her to it; and at half past twelve next day they reached Mr. Rolfe's door; an old-fashioned, mean-looking house, in one of the briskest thoroughfares of the metropolis; a cabstand opposite to the door, and a tide of omnibuses passing it.

Lady Bassett viewed the place discontentedly, and said to herself, "What a poky little place for a writer to live in; how noisy, how unpoetical!"

They knocked at the door. It was opened by a maid-servant.

"Is Mr. Rolfe at home?"

"Yes, ma'am. Please give me your card, and write the business."

Lady Bassett took out her card and wrote a line or two on the back of it. The maid glanced at it, and showed her into a room, while she took the card to her master.

The room was rather long, low, and nondescript; scarlet flock paper; curtains and sofas green Utrecht velvet; woodwork and pillars white and gold; two windows looking on the street; at the other end folding-doors with scarcely any wood-work, all plate-glass, but partly hidden by heavy curtains of the same color and material as the others. Accustomed to large, lofty rooms, Lady Bassett felt herself in a long box here; but the colors pleased her. She said to Mary Wells, "What a funny, cozy little place for a gentleman to live in!"

Mr. Rolfe was engaged with some one, and she was kept waiting; this was quite new to her, and discouraged her, already intimidated by the novelty of the situation.

She tried to encourage herself by saying it was for her husband she did this unusual thing; but she felt very miserable and inclined to cry.

At last a bell rang; the maid came in and invited Lady Bassett to follow her. She opened the glass folding-doors, and took them into a small conservatory, walled like a grotto, with ferns sprouting out of rocky fissures, and spars sparkling, water dripping. Then she opened two more glass folding-doors, and ushered them into an empty room, the like of which Lady Bassett had never seen; it was large in itself, and multiplied tenfold by great mirrors from floor to ceiling, with no frames but a narrow oak beading; opposite her, on entering, was a bay-window all plate-glass, the central panes of which opened, like doors, upon a pretty little garden that glowed with color, and was backed by fine trees belonging to the nation; for this garden ran up to the wall of Hyde Park.

The numerous and large mirrors all down to the ground laid hold of the garden and the flowers, and by double and treble reflection filled the room with delightful nooks of verdure and color.

To confuse the eye still more, a quantity of young India-rubber trees, with glossy leaves, were placed before the large central mirror. The carpet was a warm velvet-pile, the walls were distempered, a French gray, not cold, but with a tint of mauve that gave a warm and cheering bloom; this soothing color gave great effect to the one or two masterpieces of painting that hung on the walls and to the gilt frames; the furniture, oak and marqueterie highly polished; the curtains, scarlet merino, through which the sun shone, and, being a London sun, diffused a mild rosy tint favorable to female faces. Not a sound of London could be heard.

So far the room was romantic; but there was a prosaic corner to shock those who fancy that fiction is the spontaneous overflow of a poetic fountain fed by nature only; between the fireplace and the window, and within a foot or two of the wall, stood a gigantic writing-table, with the signs of hard labor on it, and of severe system. Three plated buckets, each containing three pints, full of letters to be answered, other letters to be pasted into a classified guard-book, loose notes to be pasted into various books and classified (for this writer used to sneer at the learned men who say, "I will look among my papers for it;" he held that every written scrap ought either to be burned, or pasted into a classified guard-book, where it could be found by consulting the index); five things like bankers' bill-books, into whose several compartments MS. notes and newspaper cuttings were thrown, as a preliminary toward classification in books.

Underneath the table was a formidable array of note-books, standing upright, and labeled on their backs. There were about twenty large folios of classified facts, ideas, and pictures--for the very wood-cuts were all indexed and classified on the plan of a tradesman's ledger; there was also the receipt-book of the year, treated on the same plan. Receipts on a file would not do for this romantic creature. If a tradesman brought a bill, he must be able to turn to that tradesman's name in a book, and prove in a moment whether it had been paid or not. Then there was a collection of solid quartos, and of smaller folio guard-books called Indexes. There was "Index rerum et journalium"--"Index rerum et librorum,"--"Index rerum et hominum," and a lot more; indeed, so many that, by way of climax, there was a fat folio ledger entitled "Index ad Indices."

By the side of the table were six or seven thick pasteboard cards, each about the size of a large portfolio, and on these the author's notes and extracts were collected from all his repertories into something like a focus for a present purpose. He was writing a novel based on facts; facts, incidents, living dialogue, pictures, reflections, situations, were all on these cards to choose from, and arranged in headed columns; and some portions of the work he was writing on this basis of imagination and drudgery lay on the table in two forms, his own writing, and his secretary's copy thereof, the latter corrected for the press. This copy was half margin, and so provided for additions and improvements; but for one addition there were ten excisions, great and small. Lady Bassett had just time to take in the beauty and artistic character of the place, and to realize the appalling drudgery that stamped it a workshop, when the author, who had dashed into his garden for a moment's recreation, came to the window, and furnished contrast No. 3. For he looked neither like a poet nor a drudge, but a great fat country farmer. He was rather tall, very portly, smallish head, commonplace features mild brown eye not very bright, short beard, and wore a suit of tweed all one color. Such looked the writer of romances founded on fact. He rolled up to the window--for, if he looked like a farmer, he walked like a sailor--and stepped into the room.


MR. ROLFE surveyed the two women with a mild, inoffensive, ox-like gaze, and invited them to be seated with homely civility.

He sat down at his desk, and turning to Lady Bassett, said, rather dreamily, "One moment, please: let me look at the case and my notes."

First his homely appearance, and now a certain languor about his manner, discouraged Lady Bassett more than it need; for all artists must pay for their excitements with occasional languor. Her hands trembled, and she began to gulp and try not to cry.

Mr. Rolfe observed directly, and said, rather kindly, "You are agitated; and no wonder."

He then opened a sort of china closet, poured a few drops of a colorless liquid from a tiny bottle into a wine-glass, and filled the glass with water from a filter. "Drink that, if you please."

She looked at him with her eyes brimming. "Must I?"

"Yes; it will do you good for once in a way. It is only Ignatia."

She drank it by degrees, and a tear along with it that fell into the glass.

Meantime Mr. Rolfe had returned to his notes and examined them. He then addressed her, half stiffly, half kindly:

"Lady Bassett, whatever may be your husband's condition--whether his illness is mental or bodily, or a mixture of the two--his clandestine examination by bought physicians, and his violent capture, the natural effect of which must have been to excite him and retard his cure, were wicked and barbarous acts, contrary to God's law and the common law of England, and, indeed, to all human law except our shallow, incautious Statutes de Lunatico: they were an insult to yourself, who ought at least to have been consulted, for your rights are higher and purer than Richard Bassett's; therefore, as a wife bereaved of your husband by fraud and violence and the bare letter of a paltry statute whose spirit has been violated, you are quite justified in coming to me or to any public man you think can help your husband and you." Then, with a certain bonhomie, "So lay aside your nervousness; let us go into this matter sensibly, like a big man and a little man, or like an old woman and a young woman, whichever you prefer."

Lady Bassett looked at him and smiled assent. She felt a great deal more at her ease after this opening.

"I dare not advise you yet. I must know more than Mr. Angelo has told me. Will you answer my questions frankly?"

"I will try, sir."

"Whose idea was it confining Sir Charles Bassett to the house so much?"

"His own. He felt himself unfit for society."

"Did he describe his ailment to you then?"


"All the better; what did he say?"

"He said that, at times, a cloud seemed to come into his head, and then he lost all power of mind; and he could not bear to be seen in that condition."

"This was after the epileptic seizure?"

"Yes, sir."

"Humph! Now will you tell me how Mr. Bassett, by mere words, could so enrage Sir Charles as to give him a fit?"

Lady Bassett hesitated.

"What did he say to Sir Charles?"

"He did not speak to him. His child and nurse were there, and he called out loud, for Sir Charles to hear, and told the nurse to hold up his child to look at his inheritance."

"Malicious fool! But did this enrage Sir Charles so much as to give him a fit?"


"He must be very sensitive."

"On that subject."

Mr. Rolfe was silent; and now, for the first time, appeared to think intently.

His study bore fruit, apparently; for he turned to Lady Bassett and said, suddenly, "What is the strangest thing Sir Charles has said of late--the very strangest?"

Lady Bassett turned red, and then pale, and made no reply.

Mr. Rolfe rose and walked up to Mary Wells.

"What is the maddest thing your master has ever said?"

Mary Wells, instead of replying, looked at her mistress.

The writer instantly put his great body between them. "Come, none of that," said he. "I don't want a falsehood--I want the truth."

"La, sir, I don't know. My master he is not mad, I'm sure. The queerest thing he ever said was--he did say at one time 'twas writ on his face as he had no children."

"Ah! And that is why he would not go abroad, perhaps."

"That was one reason, sir, I do suppose." Mr. Rolfe put his hands behind his back and walked thoughtfully and rather disconsolately back to his seat.

"Humph!" said he. Then, after a pause, "Well, well; I know the worst now; that is one comfort. Lady Bassett, you really must be candid with me. Consider: good advice is like a tight glove; it fits the circumstances, and it does not fit other circumstances. No man advises so badly on a false and partial statement as I do, for the very reason that my advice is a close fit. Even now I can't understand Sir Charles's despair of having children of his own."

The writer then turned his looks on the two women, with an entire absence of expression; the sense of his eyes was turned inward, though the orbs were directed toward his visitors.

With this lack-luster gaze, and in the tone of thoughtful soliloquy, he said, "Has Sir Charles Bassett no eyes? and are there women so furtive, so secret, or so bashful, they do not tell their husbands?"

Lady Bassett turned with a scared look to Mary Wells, and that young woman showed her usual readiness. She actually came to Mr. Rolfe and half whispered to him, "If you please, sir, gentlemen are blind, and my lady she is very bashful; but Sir Charles knows it now; he have known it a good while; and it was a great comfort to him; he was getting better, sir, when the villains took him--ever so much better."

This solution silenced Mr. Rolfe, though it did not quite satisfy him. He fastened on Mary Wells's last statement. "Now tell me: between the day when those two doctors got into his apartment and the day of his capture, how long?"

"About a fortnight."

"And in that particular fortnight was there a marked improvement?"

"La, yes, sir; was there not, my lady?"

"Indeed there was, sir. He was beginning to take walks with me in the garden, and rides in an open carriage. He was getting better every day; and oh, sir, that is what breaks my heart! I was curing my darling so fast, and now they will do all they can to destroy him. Their not letting his wife see him terrifies me."

"I think I can explain that. Now tell me--what time do you expect--a certain event?"

Lady Bassett blushed and cast a hasty glance at the speaker; but he had a piece of paper before him, and was preparing to take down her reply, with the innocent face of a man who had asked a simple and necessary question in the way of business.

Then Lady Bassett looked at Mary Wells, and this look Mr. Rolfe surprised, because he himself looked up to see why the lady hesitated.

After an expressive glance between the mistress and maid, the lady said, almost inaudibly, "More than three months;" and then she blushed all over.

Mr. Rolfe looked at the two women a moment, and seemed a little puzzled at their telegraphing each other on such a subject; but he coolly noted down Lady Bassett's reply on a card about the size of a foolscap sheet, and then set himself to write on the same card the other facts he had elicited.

While he was doing this very slowly, with great care and pains, the lady was eying him like a zoologist studying some new animal. The simplicity and straightforwardness of his last question won by degrees upon her judgment and reconciled her to her Inquisitor, the more so as he was quiet but intense, and his whole soul in her case. She began to respect his simple straightforwardness, his civility without a grain of gallantry, and his caution in eliciting all the facts before he would advise.

After he had written down his synopsis, looking all the time as if his life depended on its correctness, he leaned back, and his ordinary but mobile countenance was transfigured into geniality.

"Come," said he, "grandmamma has pestered you with questions enough; now you retort--ask me anything--speak your mind: these things should be attacked in every form, and sifted with every sieve."

Lady Bassett hesitated a moment, but at last responded to this invitation.

"Sir, one thing that discourages me cruelly--my solicitor seems so inferior to Mr. Bassett's. He can think of nothing but objections; and so he does nothing, and lets us be trampled on: it is his being unable to cope with Mr. Bassett's solicitor, Mr. Wheeler, that has led me in my deep distress to trouble you, whom I had not the honor of knowing."

"I understand your ladyship perfectly. Mr. Oldfield is a respectable solicitor, and Wheeler is a sharp country practitioner; and--to use my favorite Americanism--you feel like fighting with a blunt knife against a sharp one."

"That is my feeling, sir, and it drives me almost wild sometimes."

"For your comfort, then, in my earlier litigations--I have had sixteen lawsuits for myself and other oppressed people--I had often that very impression; but the result always corrected it. Legal battles are like other battles: first you have a skirmish or two, and then a great battle in court. Now sharp attorneys are very apt to win the skirmish and lose the battle. I see a general of this stamp in Mr. Wheeler, and you need not fear him much. Of course an antagonist is never to be despised; but I would rather have Wheeler against you than Oldfield. An honest man like Oldfield blunders into wisdom, the Lord knows how. Your Wheelers seldom get beyond cunning; and cunning does not see far enough to cope with men of real sagacity and forethought in matters so complicated as this. Oldfield, acting for Bassett, would have pushed rapidly on to an examination by the court. You would have evaded it, and put yourself in the wrong; and the inquiry, well urged, might have been adverse to Sir Charles. Wheeler has taken a more cunning and violent course--it strikes more terror, does more immediate harm; but what does it lead to? Very little; and it disarms them of their sharpest weapon, the immediate inquiry; for we could now delay and greatly prejudice an inquiry on the very ground of the outrage and unnecessary violence; and could demand time to get the patient as well as he was before the outrage. And, indeed, the court is very jealous of those who begin by going to a judge, and then alter their minds, and try to dispose of the case themselves. And to make matters worse, here they do it by straining an Act of Parliament opposed to equity."

"I wish it may prove so, sir; but, meantime, Mr. Wheeler is active, Mr. Oldfield is passive. He has not an idea. He is a mere negative."

"Ah, that is because he is out of his groove. A smattering of law is not enough here. It wants a smattering of human nature too."

"Then, sir, would yon advise me to part with Mr. Oldfield?"

"No. Why make an enemy? Besides, he is the vehicle of communication with the other side. You must simply ignore him for a time."

"But is there nothing I can do, sir? for it is this cruel inactivity that kills me. Pray advise me--you know all now."

Mr. Rolfe, thus challenged, begged for a moment's delay.

"Let us be silent a minute," said he, "and think hard."

And, to judge by his face, he did think with great intensity.


"Lady Bassett," said he, very gravely, "I assume that every fact you and Mr. Angelo have laid before me is true, and no vital part is kept back. Well, then, your present course is--Delay. Not the weak delay of those who procrastinate what cannot be avoided; but the wise delay of a general who can bring up overpowering forces, only give him time. Understand me, there is more than one game on the cards; but I prefer the surest. We could begin fighting openly to-morrow; but that would be risking too much for too little. The law's delay, the insolence of office, the up-hill and thorny way, would hurt Sir Charles's mind at present. The apathy, the cruelty, the trickery, the routine, the hot and cold fits of hope and fear, would poison your blood, and perhaps lose Sir Charles the heir he pines for. Besides, if we give battle to-day we fight the heir at law; but in three or four months we may have him on our side, and trustees appointed by you. By that time, too, Sir Charles will have got over that abominable capture, and be better than he was a week ago, constantly soothed and consoled--as he will be--by the hope of offspring. When the right time comes, that moment we strike, and with a sledge-hammer. No letters to the commissioners then, no petitioning Chancery to send a jury into the asylum, stronghold of prejudice. I will cut your husband in two. Don't be alarmed. I will merely give him, with your help, an alter ego, who shall effect his liberation and ruin Richard Bassett--ruin him in damages and costs, and drive him out of the country, perhaps. Meantime you are not to be a lay figure, or a mere negative."

"Oh, sir, I am so glad of that!"

"Far from that: you will act defensively. Mr. Bassett has one chance; you must be the person to extinguish it. Injudicious treatment in the asylum might retard Sir Charles's cure; their leeches and their sedatives, administered by sucking apothecaries, who reason it à priori, instead of watching the effect of these things on the patient, might seriously injure your husband, for his disorder is connected with a weak circulation of blood in the vessels of the brain. We must therefore guard against that at once. To work, then. Who keeps this famous asylum?"

"Dr. Suaby."

"Suaby? I know that name. He has been here, I think. I must look in my Index rerum et hominum. Suaby? Not down. Try Asyla.--Asyla; 'Suaby: see letter-book for the year--, p. 368.' An old letter-book. I must go elsewhere for that."

He went out, and after some time returned with a folio letter-book.

"Here are two letters to me from Dr. Suaby, detailing his system and inviting me to spend a week at his asylum. Come, come; Sir Charles is with a man who does not fear inspection; for at this date I was bitter against private asylums--rather indiscriminately so, I fear. Stay! he visited me; I thought so. Here's a description of him: 'A pale, thoughtful man, with a remarkably mild eye: is against restraint of lunatics, and against all punishment of them-- Quixotically so. Being cross-examined, declares that if a patient gave him a black eye he would not let a keeper handle him roughly, being irresponsible.' No more would I, if I could give him a good licking myself. Please study these two letters closely; you may get a clew how to deal with the amiable writer in person."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Rolfe," said Lady Bassett, flushing all over. She was so transported at having something to do. She quietly devoured the letters, and after she had read them said a load of fears was now taken off her mind.

Mr. Rolfe shook his head. "You must not rely on Dr. Suaby too much. In a prison or an asylum each functionary is important in exact proportion to his nominal insignificance; and why? Because the greater his nominal unimportance the more he comes in actual contact with the patient. The theoretical scale runs thus: 1st. The presiding physician. 2d. The medical subordinates. 3d. The keepers and nurses. The practical scale runs thus: 1st. The keepers and nurses. 2d. The medical attendants. 3d. The presiding physician."

"I am glad to hear you say so, sir; for when I went to the asylum, and the medical attendant, Mr. Salter, would not let me see my husband. I gave his keeper and the nurse a little money to be kind to him in his confinement."

"You did! Yet you come here for advice? This is the way: a man discourses and argues, and by profound reasoning--that is, by what he thinks profound, and it isn't--arrives at the right thing; and lo! a woman, with her understanding heart and her hard, good sense, goes and does that wise thing humbly, without a word. SURSUM CORDA!--Cheer up, loving heart!" shouted he, like the roar of a lion in ecstasies; "you have done a masterstroke--without Oldfield, or Rolfe, or any other man."

Lady Bassett clasped her hands with joy, and some electric fire seemed to run through her veins; for she was all sensibilities, and this sudden triumphant roaring out of strong words was quite new to her, and carried her away.

"Well," said this eccentric personage, cooling quite as suddenly as he had fired, "the only improvement I can suggest is, be a little more precise at your next visit. Promise his keepers twenty guineas apiece the day Sir Charles is cured; and promise them ten guineas apiece not to administer one drop of medicine for the next two months; and, of course, no leech nor blister. The cursed sedatives they believe in are destruction to Sir Charles Bassett. His circulation must not be made too slow one day, and too fast the next, which is the effect of a sedative, but made regular by exercise and nourishing food. So, then, you will square the keepers by their cupidity; the doctor is on the right side per se. Shall we rely on these two, and ignore the medical attendants? No; why throw a chance away? What is the key to these medical attendants? Hum! Try flunkyism. I have great faith in British flunkyism. Pay your next visit with four horses, two outriders, and blazing liveries. Don't dress in perfect taste like that; go in finer clothes than you ever wore in the morning, or ought to wear, except at a wedding; go not as a petitioner, but as a queen; and dazzle snobs; the which being dazzled, then tickle their vanity: don't speak of Sir Charles as an injured man, nor as a man unsound in mind, but a gentleman who is rather ill; 'but now, gentlemen, I feel your remarkable skill will soon set him right.' Your husband runs that one risk; make him safe: a few smiles and a little flattery will do it; and if not, why, fight with all a woman's weapons. Don't be too nice: we must all hold a candle to the devil once in our lives. A wife's love sanctifies a woman's arts in fighting with a villain and disarming donkeys."

"Oh, I wish I was there now!"

"You are excited, madam," said he, severely. "That is out of place--in a deliberative assembly."

"No, no; only I want to be there, doing all this for my dear husband."

"You are very excited; and it is my fault. You must be hungry too: you have come a journey. There will be a reaction, and then you will be hysterical. Your temperament is of that kind."

He rang a bell and ordered his maid-servant to bring some beef-wafers and a pint of dry Champagne.

Lady Bassett remonstrated, but he told her to be quiet; "for," said he, "I have a smattering of medicine, as well as of law and of human nature. Sir Charles must correspond with you. Probably he has already written you six letters complaining of this monstrous act--a sane man incarcerated. Well, that class of letter goes into a letter-box in the hall of an asylum, but it never reaches its address. Please take a pen and write a formula." He dictated as follows:


"MY DEAR LOVE--The trifling illness I had when I came here is beginning to give way to the skill and attention of the medical gentlemen here. They are all most kind and attentive: the place, as it is conducted, is a credit to the country."


Lady Bassett's eyes sparkled. "Oh, Mr. Rolfe, is not this rather artful?"

"And is it not artful to put up a letter-box, encourage the writing of letters, and then open them, and suppress whatever is disagreeable? May every man who opens another man's letter find that letter a trap. Here comes your medicine. You never drink champagne in the middle of the day, of course?"

"Oh, no."

"Then it will be all the better medicine."

He made both mistress and maid eat the thin slices of beef and drink a glass of champagne.

While they were thus fortifying themselves he wrote his address on some stamped envelopes, and gave them to Lady Bassett, and told her she had better write to him at once if anything occurred. "You must also write to me if you really cannot get to see your husband. Then I will come down myself, with the public press at my back. But I am sure that will not be necessary in Dr. Suaby's asylum. He is a better Christian than I am, confound him for it! You went too soon; your husband had been agitated by the capture; Suaby was away; Salter had probably applied what he imagined to be soothing remedies, leeches--a blister--morphia. Result, the patient was so much worse than he was before they touched him that Salter was ashamed to let you see him. Having really excited him, instead of soothing him, Sawbones Salter had to pretend that you would excite him. As if creation contained any mineral, drug simple, leech, Spanish fly, gadfly, or showerbath, so soothing as a loving wife is to a man in affliction. New reading of an old song:

'If the heart of a man is oppressed with cares,
It makes him much worse when a woman appears.'

"Go to-morrow; you will see him. He will be worse than he was; but not much. Somebody will have told him that his wife put him in there--"

"Oh! oh!"

"And he won't have believed it. His father was a Bassett; his mother a Le Compton; his great-great-great-grandmother was a Rolfe: there is no cur's blood in him. After the first shock he will have found the spirit and dignity of a gentleman to sustain adversity: these men of fashion are like that; they are better steel than women--and writers."

When he had said this he indicated by his manner that he thought he had exhausted the subject, and himself.

Lady Bassett rose and said, "Then, sir, I will take my leave; and oh! I am sorry I have not your eloquent pen or your eloquent tongue to thank you. You have interested yourself in a stranger--you have brought the power of a great mind to bear on our distress. I came here a widow--now I feel a wife again. Your good words have warmed my very heart. I can only pray God to bless you, sir."

"Pray say no more, madam," said Mr. Rolfe, hastily. "A gentleman cannot be always writing lies; an hour or two given to truth and justice is a wholesome diversion. At all events, don't thank me till my advice has proved worth it."

He rang the bell; the servant came, and showed the way to the street door. Mr. Rolfe followed them to the passage only, whence he bowed ceremoniously once more to Lady Bassett as she went out.

As she passed into the street she heard a fearful clatter. It was her counselor tearing back to his interrupted novel like a distracted bullock.

"Well, I don't think much of he," said Mary Wells.

Lady Bassett was mute to that, and all the journey home very absorbed and taciturn, impregnated with ideas she could not have invented, but was more able to execute than the inventor. She was absorbed in digesting Rolfe's every word, and fixing his map in her mind, and filling in details to his outline; so small-talk stung her: she gave her companion very short answers, especially when she disparaged Mr. Rolfe.

"You couldn't get in a word edgeways," said Mary Wells.

"I went to hear wisdom, and not to chatter."

"He doesn't think small beer of hisself, anyhow."

"How can he, and see other men?"

"Well. I don't think much of him, for my part."

"I dare say the Queen of Sheba's lady's-maid thought Solomon a silly thing."

"I don't know; that was afore my time" (rather pertly).

"Of course it was, or you couldn't imitate her."

On reaching home she ordered a light dinner upstairs, and sent directions to the coachman and grooms.

At nine next morning the four-in-hand came round, and they started for the asylum--coachman and two more in brave liveries; two outriders.

Twenty miles from Huntercombe they changed the wheelers, two fresh horses having been sent on at night.

They drove in at the lodge-gate of Bellevue House, which was left ostentatiously open, and soon drew up at the hall door, and set many a pale face peeping from the upper windows.

The door opened; the respectable servant came out with a respectful air.

"Is Mr. Salter at home, sir?"

"No, madam. Mr. Coyne is in charge to-day."

Lady Bassett was glad to hear that, and asked if she might be allowed to see Mr. Coyne.

"Certainly, madam. I'll tell him at once," was the reply.

Determined to enter the place, Lady Bassett requested her people to open the carriage door, and she was in the act of getting out when Mr. Coyne appeared, a little oily, bustling man, with a good-humored, vulgar face, liable to a subservient pucker; he wore it directly at sight of a fine woman, fine clothes, fine footmen, and fine horses.

"Mr. Coyne, I believe," said Lady Bassett, with a fascinating smile.

"At your service, madam."

"May I have a word in private with you, sir?"

"Certainly, madam."

"We have come a long way. May the horses be fed?"

"I am afraid," said the little man, apologetically, "I must ask you to send them to the inn. It is close by."

"By all means." (To one of the outriders:) "You will wait here for orders."

Mary Wells had been already instructed to wait in the hall and look out sharp for Sir Charles's keeper and nurse, and tell them her ladyship wanted to speak to them privately, and it would be money in their way.

Lady Bassett, closeted with Mr. Coyne, began first to congratulate herself. "Mr. Bassett," said she, "is no friend of mine, but he has done me a kindness in sending Sir Charles here, when he might have sent him to some place where he might have been made worse instead of better. Here, I conclude, gentlemen of your ability will soon cure his trifling disorder, will you not?"

"I have good hopes, your ladyship; he is better to-day."

"Now I dare say you could tell me to a month when he will be cured."

"Oh, your ladyship exaggerates my skill too much."

"Three months?"

"That is a short time to give us; but your ladyship may rely on it we will do our best."

"Will you? Then I have no fear of the result. Oh, by-the-by, Dr. Willis wanted me to take a message to you, Mr. Coyne. He knows you by reputation."

"Indeed! Really I was not aware that my humble--"

"Then you are better known than you in your modesty supposed. Let me see: what was the message? Oh, it was a peculiarity in Sir Charles he wished you to know. Dr. Willis has attended him from a boy, and he wished me to tell you that morphia and other sedatives have some very bad effects on him. I told Dr. Willis you would probably find that and every thing else out without a hint from him or any one else."

"Yes; but I will make a note of it, for all that."

"That is very kind of you. It will flatter the doctor, the more so as he has so high an opinion of you. But now, Mr. Coyne, I suppose if I am very good, and promise to soothe him, and not excite him, I may see my husband to-day?"

"Certainly, madam. You have an order from the person who--"

"I forgot to bring it with me. I relied on your humanity."

"That is unfortunate. I am afraid I must not--" He hesitated, looked very uncomfortable, and said he would consult Mr. Appleton; then, suddenly puckering his face into obsequiousness, "Would your ladyship like to inspect some of our arrangements for the comfort of our patients?"

Lady Bassett would have declined the proposal but for the singular play of countenance; she was herself all eye and mind, so she said, gravely, "I shall be very happy, sir."

Mr. Coyne then led the way, and showed her a large sitting-room, where some ladies were seated at different occupations and amusements: they kept more apart from each other than ladies do in general; but this was the only sign a far more experienced observer than Lady Bassett could have discovered, the nurses having sprung from authoritative into unobtrusive positions at the sound of Mr. Coyne's footstep outside.

"What!" said Lady Bassett; "are all these ladies--" She hesitated.

"Every one," said Mr. Coyne; "and some incurably."

"Oh, please let us retire; I have no right to gratify my curiosity. Poor things! they don't seem unhappy."

"Unhappy!" said Mr. Coyne. "We don't allow unhappiness here; our doctor is too fond of them; he is always contriving something to please them."

At this moment Lady Bassett looked up and saw a woman watching her over the rail of a corridor on the first floor. She recognized the face directly. The woman made her a rapid signal, and then disappeared into one of the rooms.

"Would there be any objection to our going upstairs, Mr. Coyne?" said Lady Bassett, with a calm voice and a heart thumping violently.

"Oh, none whatever. I'll conduct you; but then, I am afraid I must leave you for a time."

He showed her upstairs, blew a whistle, handed her over to an attendant, and bowed and smiled himself away grotesquely.

Jones was the very keeper she had feed last visit. She flushed with joy at sight of bull-necked, burly Jones. "Oh, Mr. Jones!" said she, putting her hands together with a look that might have melted a hangman.

Jones winked, and watched Mr. Coyne out of sight.

"I have seen your ladyship's maid," said Jones, confidentially. "It is all right. Mr. Coyne have got the blinkers on. Only pass me your word not to excite him."

"Oh no, sir, I will soothe him." And she trembled all over.

"Sally!" cried Jones.

The nurse came out of a room and held the door ajar; she whispered, "I have prepared him, madam; he is all right."

Lady Bassett, by a great effort, kept her feet from rushing, her heart from crying out with joy, and she entered the room. Sally closed the door like a shot, with a delicacy one would hardly have given her credit for, to judge from appearances.

Sir Charles stood in the middle of the room, beaming to receive her, but restraining himself. They met: he held her to his heart; she wept for joy and grief upon his neck. Neither spoke for a long time.


THEY were seated hand in hand, comparing notes and comforting each other. Then Lady Bassett met with a great surprise: forgetting, or rather not realizing, Sir Charles's sex and character, she began with a heavy heart to play the consoler; but after he had embraced her many times with tender rapture, and thanked God for the sight of her, lo and behold, this doughty baronet claimed his rights of manhood, and, in spite of his capture, his incarceration, and his malady, set to work to console her, instead of lying down to be consoled.

"My darling Bella," said he, "don't you make a mountain of a mole-hill. The moment you told me I should be a father I began to get better, and to laugh at Richard Bassett's malice. Of course I was terribly knocked over at first by being captured like a felon and clapped under lock and key; but I am getting over that. My head gets muddled once a day, that is all. They gave me some poison the first day that made me drunk twelve hours after; but they have not repeated it."

"Oh!" cried Lady Bassett, "then don't let me lose a moment. How could I forget?" She opened the door, and called in Mr. Jones and the nurse.

"Mr. Jones," said she, "the first day my husband came here Mr. Salter gave him a sedative, or something, and it made him much worse."

"It always do make 'em worse," said Jones, bluntly.

"Then why did he give it?"

"Out o' book, ma'am. His sort don't see how the medicines work; but we do, as are always about the patient."

"Mr. Jones," said Lady Bassett, "if Mr. Salter, or anybody, prescribes, it is you who administer the medicine."

Jones assented with a wink. Winking was his foible, as puckering of the face was Coyne's.

"Should you be offended if I were to offer you and the nurse ten guineas a month to pretend you had given him Mr. Salter's medicines, and not do it?"

"Oh, that is not much to do for a gentleman like Sir Charles," said Jones. "But I didn't ought to take so much money for that. To be sure, I suppose, the lady won't miss it."

"Don't be a donkey, Jones," said Sir Charles, cutting short his hypocrisy. "Take whatever you can get; only earn it."

"Oh, what I takes I earns."

"Of course," said Sir Charles. "So that is settled. You have got to physic those flower-pots instead of me, that is all."

This view of things tickled Jones so that he roared with laughter. However, he recollected himself all of a sudden, and stopped with ludicrous abruptness.

He said to Lady Bassett, with homely kindness, "You go home comfortable, my lady; you have taken the stick by the right end." He then had the good sense to retire from the room.

Then Lady Bassett told Sir Charles of her visit to London, and her calling on Mr. Rolfe.

He looked blank at his wife calling on a bachelor; but her description of the man, his age, and his simplicity, reconciled him to that; and when she told him the plan and order of campaign Mr. Rolfe had given her he approved it very earnestly.

He fastened in particular on something that Mr. Rolfe had dwelt lightly on. "Dear as the sight of you is to me, sweet as the sound of your loved voice is to my ears and my heart, I would rather not see you again until our hopes are realized than jeopardize that."

Lady Bassett sighed, for this seemed rather morbid. Sir Charles went on: "So think of your own health first, and avoid agitations. I am tormented with fear lest that monster should take advantage of my absence to molest you. If he does, leave Huntercombe. Yes, leave it; go to London; go, even for my sake; my health and happiness depend on you; they cannot be much affected by anything that happens here. 'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.'"

Lady Bassett promised, but said she could not keep away from him, and he must often write to her. She gave him Rolfe's formula, and told him all letters would pass that praised the asylum.

Sir Charles made a wry face.

Lady Bassett's wrist went round his neck in a moment. "Oh, Charles, dear, for my sake--hold a little, little candle to the devil. Mr. Rolfe says we must. Oblige me in this--I am not so noble as you--and then I'll be very good and obedient in what your heart is set upon."

At last Sir Charles consented.

Then they made haste, and told each other everything that had happened, and it was late in the afternoon before they parted.

Lady Bassett controlled her tears at parting as well as she could.

Mr. Coyne had slyly hid himself, but emerged when she came down to the carriage, and she shook him warmly by the hand, and he bowed at the door incessantly, with his face all in a pucker, till the cavalcade dashed away.

Chapters 25-44
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