Page images

time—our antagonist might die. I have known many an action -settled in that way, and it is not a bad way either."

"It would be useless to wait. The expenses of a lawsuit, followed by the loss of the Grange, would be absolutely ruinous. There is no doubt as to the validity of the willl"

"I should say, not the slightest. We cannot hope for anythmg by attacking that."

"Then there is nothing to get up a tight about. Many circumstances have come back to my mind which confirm Mr File's statement, and make me certain that he is telling the truth. My father's mind must have been poisoned against me to the last, and this blow from beyond the grave strikes as perhaps he meant it to do—but it strikes my child as well as me. There is where I feel it most keenly."

"It is unfortunate," said the lawyer, with a slight touch of feeling. "I really wish I could be of service to you."

"Well, perhaps you can. It remains for me to find some place where we may live in peace, and inexpensively; for a few hundred pounds are all that I shall have left when my debts are paid. My present idea is that we had better live in apartments for the present; and you, with your knowledge of London, may assist me in finding them. They must not be in Belgrave Square."

"I think I know of something that may suit you," said Morgan, after a minute or two of reflection, —" at least until a turn comes in your affairs. There is a lady, the wife of an old client of mine, who will be glad to receive you as a tenant, for she has recently been left a widow, and is ill able, I fancy, to keep up her house unaided. It

is not a palace, but you will be in good hands. When a man has met with a misfortune, his next experience of life is usually to fall among thieves. Here at least you will be safe." He wrote down an address and gave it to Margrave. And it must be confessed that he was glad when his client took his departure, for he felt more and more strongly that it was a hard case, and yet that he was quite powerless to do any good. It was more than likely that Captain Tiltoff knew as much as Dexter File himself concerning the American woman whom Margrave had so rashly married. In that case, it certainly could not be worth while to go into a contest over this property, especially for a client who had no money.

The Regent's Park is a locality which is still surrounded with many streets containing comfortable houses, a little way removed from the roar of central London, and with a few trees and gardens scattered about here and there to keep up a trace of that rural appearance which once was the distinguishing characteristic of all this region. The gardens get blacker and blacker every year with soot, and the old trees are dying off, but the idea is still popular that anything to the north of Regent's Park is in the country. It is not a fashionable neighbourhood, for at the best it is far away from where most people wish to be, either for purposes of business or pleasure; but there are many parts of it which have, at any rate, always maintained a good repute, and it was to one of these that Margrave was sent. The house was small, but not uninviting in appearance. A few flowers were in the windows, and there was a small garden at the back, with some melancholy geraniums trying to keep up a gay appearance under the shower of "blacks" which continually fell upon them. The place was called Lilac Villa—not an inspiriting name, but in this world we have to take things as we find them. The landlady, Mrs Talbot, was a quiet, subdued, well-mannered woman, with not too great an obtrusion of the "better days" element, which is so great a drawback to the attractions of modern landladies. The arrangements were soon concluded, and Margrave was firm in his resolve that the change which he had to make should be made speedily. It was then Tuesday; on the following Monday he would bid farewell to the Grange, with its beautiful old park and lovely gardens, and come here to Lilac Villa, with its prim little rooms, and its speckled geraniums in the patch of miserable ground at the back. seems to be undergoing a change. The air is soft and mild, and whispers to us pleasant, if delusive, stories of the spring-time to come. Everywhere there is a curious stir and movement. Bees are buzzing past, birds are on the wing, rooks are building, insects are chasing each other in their short-lived sport. The lark pours forth his wondrous carol, the thrush sings gaily in the intervals of his hunt for snails, the starling pipes his call to his mate, and the blackbird whistles his few but incomparable notes. Trees are beginning to bud, the crocus and the daffodil shine in the garden walks, and every sign denotes the departure of winter. It is true that fierce winds and cutting frosts are only too sure to return; but still it is the summer which we are looking forward to and not the winter; and although the hopes of many a previous year may never have been realised, we continue to believe in the summer which is to come.

By a late train he reached the Grange that night, and was glad to think on his way that there was no chance of his being required to explain all these events to his daughter till the next day. Perhaps he would have postponed the evil hour one day later still, but an accident decided the matter for him. Kate was walking about with him after breakfast, telling him of some favourite scheme which she had long secretly cherished for constructing a fernery in a secluded part of the gardens. And then her father drew her arm within his, and told her all.

"And we must really go, papa," said the young girl, when the first great shock of her surprise was over, "and go so soon?"

"Yes; it is the best way. Nothing would become easier to us by lingering here. It would be as hard to part with the old place a year hence as it is to-day." His heart was heavy, and his daughter knew that it was so. She placed her hand gently upon his arm, and led him towards the house.

"Dear papa," said she, with a smile that seemed to diffuse itself like sunshine round about him, "we shall be happy together wherever we may be. We shall not be very poor, shall we 1"

"I fear it will be so, my Kate."'

"Then be it so. It is not long ago, remember, since you told me that I might yet have to depend upon my art even for bread; I am not afraid. Poor Mr Creek, the painter, always said that it was a pity I had not to earn my own living, for then I should be compelled to do justice to myself. I daresay it was an idle compliment; but now we shall see. I think this is the very best thing that could have happened for me—and so, perhaps, will you think, some day."

The young can endure sorrows bravely, but Kate did not bear this one so lightly as her words might have led a stranger to suppose. Her father understood her; her own feeling, had it been ten times as great, would have been concealed from him in order that his burden might not be made heavier on her account. She walked by his side planning out a future which almost made him forget that he was getting old, and that life, even for the young, is none too easy.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

It was on such a morning as this that Kate stepped forth into her garden, saddened by the knowledge that she was about to leave it for ever. But one duty remained to be performed, and it was the hardest of all. It needed no protracted experience of the world to tell her how the great change in the circumstances of her life would be regarded at Owlscote Manor. Lady Tresham had indeed received her as the affianced bride of her son, but it was with no manifestation of pleasure. She had kissed the young girl coldly on the forehead, and there was something in her manner which showed that she had but resigned herself to an arrangement which she was powerless to prevent. Kate had some insight into this, and she divined that the loss of fortune would not tend to endear her to Reginald's

mother. "Was it so certain that it would be a matter of indifference with Reginald himself? He was ambitious, and Kate was well aware that his means were restricted. How would his prospects and career be affected by a marriage with a penniless—it might almost be said, a homeless—girl?

Kate had passed the greater part of the night in thinking over these questions, and she made up her mind that she would not seek to hold her lover to his engagement. Pride and a sense of duty alike told her how she should act. It was a hard trial, but she made up her mind to face it. Better that than to be received upon sufferance by the mother, and become a hindrance and a burden to the son. She did not consider it necessary to consult her father on such a point—her own feelings dictated the proper line of conduct. She wrote a letter to Reginald Tresham, in which she touched briefly upon the events which her father had related to her, and told him that under these altered circumstances all must be deemed ended between them. She bade him farewell, and was careful that he should perceive that it was a very real farewell, for the letter was not sent till her departure from the Grange, and she gave no clue to the place of her retreat. Perhaps, in spite of her firmness, she nursed the secret hope that her lover would not accept this decision; but no such hope found expression in her letter. Her father would be happy, for now he would be able to dismiss from his mind the fear of losing her. If she was about to make a sacrifice, he, who had sacrificed so much for her, would at least be the happier for it.

Such were the young girl's reflections; and whether they were wise or unwise, they nerved her to go through the last morning at the Grange without revealing a sign of the sorrow which was at her heart. Her father was surprised at her cheerfulness — she seemed full of their future plans, and drew a bright picture of the new home, and of the friends who would surround them in it. Not everybody would desert them because they were poor. There was Mr Delvar, who was himself not too much burdened with this world's goods, and whom her father rather liked, notwithstanding his innumerable vagaries and his somewhat overweening opinion of his abilities. He doubtless would still be faithful to them. And there was another friend for whom Kate herself had a very tender and gentle feeling, and whom she had of late lost sight of—perhaps because another friendship had occupied her too much. This was Bernard Creek, the painter—a man who once had seemed to be bound straight for the temple of fame, but who somehow or other had never got there. From him Kate had received some instruction in the art to which she was devoted, soon after her arrival in England ; but the teacher had soon recognised that he had very little to impart to so gifted a pupil, and he speedily withdrew into the background.

In early life Bernard Creek had been one of the artists who received the support and patronage of the well - known dealer, Moss Jacobs. One or two of his pictures had contained such signs of promise that Jacobs felt no hesitation in becoming his friend; and for a long time he was ready to make him advances, which were only too necessary to the struggling artist, upon the works which were projected or half commenced. There are some men who find their energies cramped and

deadened by the burden of debt, and who feel all the impetus to labour gone when they know that the reward has been disposed of before it could be earned. Of this sort was Creek. He continued to paint, because his good friend Jacobs took care that he should not be idle; but the dealer complained more and more bitterly that his works would not sell. This did not assist the flagging imagination of the poor artist. He toiled on, but it was with depressed spirits and fading hopes. Even in the darkest days, however, a few hours in the society of Kate seemed to make another man of him—the man he was before he fell in with Moss Jacobs, and before he was doomed to work, like a convict, with the cannon-ball of debt chained to his heels. Kate was right in counting upon him as a true friend, even in adversity, little as he might be able to do for them; there was not one who would have sacrificed more for her, if by any species of sacrifice her path could have been made smooth. Mrs Talbot received her lodgers with some little nervousness, for by this time she had learnt a few particulars concerning them. The ordinary lodging - house keeper would merely have seen in the circumstances of the father and daughter an unusually good opportunity for plunder. There could be an "extra" clapped on here, and another there, till even the amount of rent itself would become a secondary item in the bill. But misfortunes do not always come in battalions, and although fate had dealt Margrave a hard blow, it spared him the hardship of falh ing into a bandit's cave. Moreover, the rooms which he and his daughter were to occupy were at least comfortable; and Kate had not been in them many hours before she contrived to give them some touch of the bright and cheerful aspect of the home which they had just lost. A few flowers arranged with a woman's taste and dexterity imparted a distant flavour of the country to the town lodgings; and some pieces of silk embroidery thrown over Mrs Talbot's commonplace furniture produced an effect which made the landlady herself fancy that she had stumbled into the wrong house when she entered her best sittingroom. It is true that luxuries were absent, but there was nothing to make the new-comers feel that they had fallen into the gulf of sordid poverty.

From the first, however, Kate was resolved that as little as possible should be touched of the slender means still remaining to them. If she was indeed so skilful with her pencil as her friends had assured her, now was the time to turn the gift to good account. Everybody said that the opportunities of employment for women were far greater than they used to be; but when Kate sought for them, they were not so easily to be found. One day there was a tempting advertisement in the papers for a young lady who could teach drawing in a "highly respectable family." She answered it, and found that somewhere amid the melancholy wilderness of Camberwell there were four daughters of a pork-butcher who were willing to be taught as much of what they called "drawring" as anybody could teach them for twelve shillings a-week. Kate at this time was reluctant to turn away from any employment, but this proposal discouraged her. Then there were offices without number which undertook to introduce ladies to remunerative occupations. But after Kate had seen the managers and

duly paid her fees, she heard no more from them; and had she known London and its ways a little better, she would perhaps have been quite as well pleased that she did not. At last she determined to seek the advice of Creek; and the once-favoured protege of Moss Jacobs was overjoyed to receive a note from Margrave requesting him to call and see them. A summons for his instant attendance at Court to receive a commission to paint the portraits of all the Royal Family would not have been received by poor Creek with half so much pride and joy. His sketch-book contained drawing after drawing of Kate's beautiful face; unfinished portraits of her stood in a dusty corner, discarded by the artist as ludicrously unworthy of the original, whose sweet smile and irresistible eyes were seldom long absent from his thoughts. There was one portrait on his easel which he had brought nearer to completion than the others, and which had so struck the fancy of the discerning dealer that he had actually offered to pay some ready money for it, and let the old debt stand. But Creek would not hear of it. He would have gone without bread rather than have parted with that picture, all imperfect and unsatisfactory as it was in his own eyes.

At length, then, he was to see once more the object of his secret worship—and see her, too, under circumstances which encouraged a faint hope that a friendship so precious to him would not again be interrupted. She was no longer rich; that barrier was removed. The artist almost dared to recall the dreams which had once cheered his labours, but which had long been nothing more to him than a sad recollection. He waited for the appointed evening with the

« PreviousContinue »