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impatience of one who had thus far experienced many disappointments. There was a little dinner, prepared by Mrs Talbot herself, in honour of the first visit of Margrave's friends. The menu would not have been regarded by Brillat Savarin as worthy of any particular mention, but to Creek it was a feast of the gods. What was on the table he did not much know or care; but when he saw Kate sitting opposite to him, and was greeted by her with words of hearty welcome which made him forget all the burdens which oppressed him, including Moss Jacobs, he would not have changed places in life with the President of the Royal Academy.
Kate told him of her experiences in the effort to find some occupation which would yield her a little more profit than the pork-butcher's twelve shillings a-week. The artist explained to her that she had gone the wrong way to work. "You must," he said, "go to one of the large houses which make all the fashionable furniture nowadays. They are always ready to pay for new designs of any kind, and they pay moderately well. Let me go and speak to Lintows about you. I have done something for them myself before now; they gave me twenty guineas for a new pattern for a tile for one of their fireplaces. I am sure you could have done it a great deal better."
"A capital idea," said Delvar, who was the only other visitor present, and who had the good sense to see that Kate ought to be encouraged in her purpose. "And I want to enlist you, Margrave, among my contributors—there is nothing like work for making a man forget an adverse tilt with fortune. When will you begin?" "My dear fellow, I should neither know when nor how to begin. I have not written a line for three
years, and my hand is completely out."
"Then get it in again. Every man's hand gets out after a short spell of idleness. Choose your own field, and work in it your own way."
"But I do not agree with your politics."
"Well, then, let politics alone. You shall leave the ship of state to be managed by me. I will send you some books to review—the hardest work in the world for an editor to get done well. Every blockhead thinks he can review any book ever written—and you see the stuff which is turned out. We think we manage things tolerably well in the 'Sentinel,' but we want new blood. That is what every editor should be looking for, from the rising of the sun even to the going down of the same. Come, take this shilling," and Delvar took out that coin from his waistcoatpocket, "and let me enlist you on the spot."
"Very well; but I will not promise that you will get even the value of your shilling."
"That will be my look - out. Recollect that you are on duty tomorrow morning. Promptness and despatch," said the editor, with mock severity, "are my only conditions. In these days books are reviewed twelve months after date. I treat them as part of my news; the fresher the reviews, the better everybody likes them—including the publishers. So now that matter is settled."
Between these two friends the evening passed away so pleasantly that Kate was sorry when it came to an end. She remembered many evenings spent amid much more brilliant surroundings, of which she had a very different recollection. He almost forgot that they were poor.
And now the days went quickly over, and still there was no reply from Reginald Tresham. He had, to all appearance, accepted Kate at her word; but it seemed to the young girl that at least one expression of farewell might have been vouchsafed to her. Margrave could see that she suffered, notwithstanding her constant endeavour to conceal it from him. But there are situations in life in which words, even from those who are dearest to each other, are of no avail. Kate made no allusion to the grief which was deep in her heart, and her father did not dare to speak. He divined what had occurred, and he knew that there was nothing to be done. And meanwhile he found some relief from his own anxieties by performing the daily task which Delvar took care should be provided for him. There were many in his position who had not even the solace of work—-men who needed work to provide them with their daily bread, and who were willing to do it, but could not find it. And of all lots in life, there is none so hard as that.
Kate was not long before she made her visit to the great house of Lintows which Creek had recommended to her. A member of the firm—an elderly and dignified man—received her with courtesy, although he gave her no very strong encouragement. "You see," he said, "London is full of ladies who are anxious to earn a living, and who can do such work as we are able to give them fairly well. I will give you an idea." He turned over a large pile of drawings upon his desk, and Kate saw indeed that there were many competitors in the field.
"I am afraid that my chance is but a poor one," she said.
"I do not say that. Our old friend, Mr Creek, tells me that
your gifts are quite out of the common way. Now none of the work which I have just shown you indicates anything of that kind. It is all on one dead level—neither very good nor very bad. These ladies go to a school of art and pick up a smattering of knowledge, and think that all the world will rush forward to buy their productions. I am led to think you can do better than that."
"I will try," said Kate, with a grateful glance at the worthy man who was dealing so frankly with her.
"Depend upon it, that anything you submit to us shall have fair consideration. I am always sorry when we cannot use a design sent to us by a lady. I have daughters of my own, and I think of them placed in the position of these applicants, and I find it hard to say No. But I am only a man of business, and have my master to consult, and I can assure you that the public is a hard master. And now, good day—rely at least upon our goodwill towards you."
Kate went away by no means despairing. That very evening she drew some designs for the coverings of a beautiful set of drawing-room furniture which had been shown her at the Lintows', and which had been made for a merchant in China. Some special coverings were needed, and Kate set to work with enthusiasm to prepare them. Creek came and examined them, and was delighted. But Kate more than half suspected that he could not be a harsh critic of anything which came from her hand. She thought better of his judgment when, in due time, it was confirmed by the Lintows. There came to her a very pleasant letter, enclosing an equally pleasant cheque; and thus the first start was made. No money is so bright as that which we first earn for ourselves, and Kate took a childish pleasure in turning over and over the sovereigns which she received at the bank for her slip of
paper. Come what might, she and her father would at least never see the grim figure of want standing at their door.
CHAPTER XVI. THE UNANSWERED LETTER.
It has been said that Reginald Tresham bad hitherto sent no reply to Kate Margrave's letter. He had, however, written several replies, but each one had found its way into the fire. The revelation which Kate's letter conveyed was sudden and unexpected. It is true that there had been rumours of a threatened lawsuit in reference to the Grange property, and Lady Tresham had made allusion to them; but Margrave himself had kept silence on the subject, and the young baronet had allowed the stories to pass as a part of the idle gossip which is always afloat in the country. And now, without previous sign or warning, the house was left deserted, and he was told, in a few brief sentences, that it would be better both for Kate and himself that they should not meet again. What was a man to do who found himself unexpectedly placed in such a position? Perhaps the lover, who thought only of his love, would have answered the question by hastening without delay in pursuit of the fugitive; he would have declined to be set free quite so summarily, and been eloquent in protestations that changes of circumstances or of fortune were powerless to influence his affections. But it must be confessed that Reginald Tresham was not a lover of this description. He could not help feeling that the circumstances described by Kate were very serious, and there was much in them which he did not quite understand. Margrave's behaviour was, to say the least, very
strange. Was there nothing more than his daughter had been suffered to know to explain the mystery of his course 1 The suspicions which Lady Tresham had once thrown out — were they wholly unfounded 1 Her son had thought so at the time, but he did not feel the same degree of certainty on the subject now.
And then it appeared that there was to be a total loss of fortune. Sir Reginald was not by any means a rich man; not rich enough, as prudence whispered to him, to be able to afford the luxury of marrying a poor woman because he loved her. His mother had objected to the marriage even when no such disadvantage as this was in question. Could it be supposed that she would welcome Kate to Owlscote Manor as her son's wife with something very like a scandal hanging over her 1 For of course the departure of the Margraves from the Grange under such circumstances could not be entirely divested of scandal. Reginald Tresham was naturally a proud man, and he could not but entertain some painful doubts whether the conditions which now surrounded his engagement were calculated to bring happiness into his home. He had told his mother that he hoped to make Kate his wife, and she had submitted, though not without allowing him to perceive that her own judgment and inclination were utterly opposed to his own. Surely his difficulties would be increased tenfold by the disaster which had now occurred. Lastly, there was Kate's own letter. She had, to use the common phrase, thrown him over without a single expression of regret. It was useless to conceal the fact that he had received a curt dismissal. Would any girl have written thus to a man whom she really loved? When all things were considered, had Kate left him any room to exercise his own will in the matter? The oftener he asked himself that question, the more he was obliged to admit that she had not. Thus day after day went by, and the letter remained unanswered; and as each day passed, the rejected lover knew still less than before what answer to send. What could he do but, for the present, submit to the decision which had been so abruptly communicated to him 1
Lady Tresham was particularly glad that at this critical time Lord Splint happened to be a visitor at her house. He was not perhaps one of the wisest men in the world, but he might very safely be depended upon to take the right view of such an affair as this. His influence over Reginald Tresham was not very potent, for Reginald was by far the abler man of the two; but it was quite strong enough for present purposes. Whatever might happen, Lord Splint was always sure to be found ranged on behalf of prudence and discretion. Lady Tresham took him aside the very day of his arrival, and told him everything. All her fears and anxieties were laid bare before him. She had known him from childhood, and had been kind to him at a time when Lord Splint himself had stood sorely in need of a friend; for even he had not always been prudent and rich. Once or twice he very nearly fell foul of the rocks which are concealed in the stream of the most sluggish life;
and on one of those occasions Lady Tresham had been most useful to him, and he had not forgotten it. Moreover, he and Reginald had been at Oxford together, and they had always remained firm friends. It was not without some cause, therefore, that Lady Tresham reposed great confidence in her ally.
"You can imagine," she said, "what grief such a marriage would occasion me. Here is a young girl, without connections and without any power whatever of helping Reginald in his future career. She would be a clog and an impediment to him all through life. And even that is not all. If there was nothing in her father's marriage of which he has reason to be ashamed, why all this mystery? why this hurried flight from the Grange?—the servants all paid oft' at a moment's notice, and the property handed over without a struggle to those wretched people the Tiltoffs? Surely you would not approve of such a marriage 1"
"My dear Lady Tresham," replied the discreet young man, "it is not a question of my approval, as you very well know. The question is, what has Reginald made up his mind to do? He is not easily turned aside from any purpose: we both are aware of that. Is he much in love with this young lady?"
"I think it possible that he imagines he is, though since her disappearance I have observed a change in him. It cannot but be that what has happened will shock him very much; for my son is a man of right principle, and will never do anything to disgrace himself—of that I am very sure. If he could only be brought to see this matter in its proper light! He is not a rash-brained, love-sick boy, and I am in hopes that you will find him in a mood to take sensible advice."
"But I cannot offer any advice till he asks me for it. These are delicate subjects for even the truest friends to meddle with. It would be only too easy to do more harm than good."
"Oh, but I have the greatest confidence in your tact. Depend upon it, the opportunity will arise quite naturally. Reginald will speak to you, I feel certain, before you have been alone with him many hours. Then you must frankly and boldly declare your opinion. I need not ask you, for I feel confident beforehand, that you will be upon my side,—will you not?"
"I can promise you that without hesitation, for I believe you to be entirely in the right. But it may not be so easy to get Reginald to think so too."
"Well, we will do our best. I declare I never shall be sufficiently grateful to you if you remove this heavy load from my mind. Would that I could see my son marry as you have done!" Now, although Lord Splint had married a great heiress, prizes of that kind are not sufficiently numerous to go round among all the eligible young men in England. Some such thought as that passed through Lord Splint's mind, and it made him all the more contented with his own good luck in the lottery.
Lord Splint had been fortunate in more ways than one. He had, as Lady Tresham had said, never made a mistake. He had played every card in the game to win, and thus far he had won everything. His first speeches in the House of Lords had marked him out as a man who was sure to rise in the political world, and no one was surprised when it was announced that he had joined Mr Spinner's Ministry. He stood high in that great statesman's confidence, and had done much to deserve the dis
Vol. cxxxiv.—No. ncccxtn.
tinct and flattering recognition which he received. He was a clever man, though not so clever as he fancied. Whether he had ten talents, or whether he had but one, it could not but be admitted that he had made the most of his share. He could deliver a very fair speech, if he had time enough given him for its preparation. His jokes were rather elaborately studied, and were delivered with an air which savoured a little too much of the conventicle; but, upon the whole, they were generally well received. He diligently read most of the celebrated speeches of the statesmen of former times, and came to the conclusion that they had been greatly overpraised. They were certainly not equal to Mr Spinner's. In his most sacred moments of confidence, he told himself that they were not equal to speeches which a man at present less famous than Mr Spinner had delivered on one or two memorable occasions. He fancied he most resembled Fox in his style of oratory, though not in person; for Lord Splint was very tall and thin, with light hair and pale complexion— what ladies generally called an interesting-looking man. At a very opportune moment there had happened the event which placed him beyond all thought or care for this world's goods. Some people said that this also was owing to his luck, and not to his merit; but, at any rate, it was one of the stakes for which Lord Splint had played very carefully, and, as usual, he won it. Such was the man whom Lady Tresham summoned to her aid in the great emergency which had overtaken her. He had no great inclination to undertake the task assigned to him; for what was it to him whether this marriage took place or not? His own feelings, and what were of still greater moc