Can bid its gloom depart

But the spite on’t is, no praise
Is due at all to me;
Love with me hath made mad no staies
Had it any been but she.

Had it any been but she,
And that very face,
There had been at least ere this
Twelve dozen in her place.
SIR JOHN SUCKLING.

Promptly, by an early train, Willie Pitblado arrived with the cash from
M’Goldrick, and with that which alike puzzled and provoked me—a brief
note from my friend, Jack Studhome, the adjutant, advising me that, from
rumours he, Scriven, and Wilford had heard—rumours circulated
insidiously, he knew not how or by whom, in the billiard-rooms we
frequented, and indeed about Maidstone barracks generally—my visits to a
certain romantic cottage near the Reculvers were well known. I might
mean no wrong, certainly; but was it judicious or wise to get myself
into a scrape with a brother officer?

There was no mistaking the object of this friendly epistle of Jack’s,
and it filled me with fresh anger against Berkeley. Who but he could
insidiously spread those reports concerning what he alone knew or could
affect an interest in! I knew his subtle and crooked mode of working;
and his ultimate object was undoubtedly that this rumour against me
should ere long reach Chillingham Park.

Yet, removed as I was from head-quarters, I could do nothing in the
matter, and for the present had only “to grin and bear it.”

Morning parade over, in obedience to Colonel Beverley’s order, I was
putting the troop through a course of sword and lance exercise
personally, and was so earnestly engaged in the work of the moment, that
I did not perceive a dashing phaeton, drawn by a pair of spanking grey
ponies, attended by an outrider in livery, on a showy bay horse, that
entered the barrack-yard, and drew up close by, as if its occupants
wished to observe the progress of the drill.

After the lapse of a few minutes, Troop Sergeant-Major Stapylton trotted
his horse forward, and said—

“Beg pardon, Captain Norcliff, but some friends of yours are waiting for
you, sir.”

Turning in my saddle, how great was my surprise to see Lady Louisa and
Cora in the phaeton, which was driven by Berkeley, who was attired in a
very accurate suit of forenoon mufti. Dismounting, I sheathed my sword,
threw my reins to Stapylton, and saying to my lieutenant, Jocelyn—

“Frank, like a good fellow, finish off this piece of drill for me,
please,” advanced at once to greet my fair friends, whose visit, I felt,
was due to Cora.

“How interesting this is!” said Lady Louisa, presenting her
carefully-gloved little hand, with a brilliant smile, as she proceeded
to imitate my last order, “Prepare to dismount! one; the lance to be
raised out of the bucket, by the right hand sliding down to the extent
of the arm; two—ah, I forget two; you are quite an enthusiast.”

Under this banter I detected, or thought so, a deep glance of anxiety
and hidden meaning, more especially as she added, “You evidently think
more of this drill-sergeant’s work than of me.”

My heart was so filled with sudden joy that I knew not what I said; but
I kissed Cora’s hand to conceal my confusion.

“And what of good Sir Nigel, Cora?” I asked.

“Papa comes to England to see you go away, and to take me home,” replied
my cousin, in a calm voice; “home to Calderwood, when all is over.”

“All is over?”

“I mean when the army departs.”

“And you are on leave, I perceive, Berkeley?”

“Aw—haw—yes, for a day or so. Doocid bore the work at Maidstone,” he
drawled out.

I was obliged as yet to dissemble, though there was an ill-concealed air
of smiling triumph about my comrade that gave me considerable
uneasiness.

“And now, sir, what have you to say for yourself?” said Lady Louisa,
tapping me on the epaulette with her parasol, and speaking with an air
of mock severity. “So the rules of society are to be inverted to suit
your lancer tastes; the ladies are to wait upon the gentlemen?
Quartered actually in Canterbury, and yet you never came near us.”

“Lady Louisa,” I was beginning, yet not knowing what to say, as I could
never imagine that she doubted the reason of my non-appearance at
Chillingham.

“What am I to think of it?” she continued, smiling.

Berkeley laughed. I believe the fellow thought we were on the eve of a
coolness.

“Remember my constitutional timidity,” I urged.

“Timidity in a captain of lancers!” she exclaimed, laughing.

“I ventured to hope that the earl, at least, might have remembered me.”

“You knew that I was at Chillingham Park, it appears?” she observed,
with a pretty air of pique.

“Yes,” said I, soothed by her glance of fond reproach; “Sir Nigel’s
letter told me so.”

“Yet you never came even once to visit us, and I longed so much to see
you, for I had a good deal to gossip about concerning our residence at
Calderwood.”

“But the earl omitted to leave a card, and your mamma never wrote; and
then the rules of society!” I urged, still harping on my grievance.

“The rules of fiddlesticks! When did lovers ever heed them?” she asked,
in a rapid whisper, while Berkeley addressed a few words to Jocelyn, and
while her dark and sparkling eyes flashed a glance that made me forget
all. “Well, here are the cards of papa and mamma, with an express
invitation to Chillingham. You will dine with us this evening, won’t
you?”

“With pleasure.”

“Papa and mamma are to dine at the Priory, but on another day you shall
see them.”

“And the hour?”

“Eight.”

“Eight!” I repeated, for that was the very hour of my appointment with
Agnes Auriol, and the park lay in an opposite direction from the
barracks. Here was a dilemma! But I resolved, if possible, to keep
faith with both, and said—

“Excuse me, pray; but on reflection I find it impossible to be present
at that hour.”

“Indeed!”

“But I shall present myself soon after in the drawing-room.”

“What prevents you?” she asked, raising her dark eyebrows.

“Duty, unfortunately.”

“In that case I must excuse you. Allegiance to me should not precede
that which you owe to the Queen. Till this evening, then, adieu.”

She presented her hand, and bowed with inimitable grace. I took it in
mine, and lingering, would, I am sure, have kissed it, but for the troop
close by, and dozens of idlers who were lolling at the barrack windows
in their shell-jackets or shirt-sleeves. There was a glorious smile on
her bright face that contrasted strongly with the sad and wistful glance
of Cora’s soft dark eyes; and, as the phaeton swept away from the
barrack-square, I forgot to bid adieu to Berkeley, though I wished him
in very warm quarters indeed. I forgot even to address Cora, or rejoin
the troop. I forgot all about Studhome’s letter and its import; and,
leaving Jocelyn to finish the drill as he pleased, walked mechanically
to my quarters, filled by a great revulsion of feeling, and remembering
only that Louisa loved me—loved me still! Of that day’s close could I
have foreseen the end! I counted the hours that intervened between the
time that I should be at the park. I resolved, if possible, to leave
nothing undone to gain the good opinion of the earl and countess; and,
on after thought, I regretted that I had excused my appearance at
dinner, and believed that I might have paid my last visit to the cottage
at the Reculvers an hour or so earlier, and performed my task of
philanthropy, even at the risk of being seen; though, sooth to say, I
rather dreaded that event, circumstanced as I was with Louisa; and since
the clouds that lowered upon my horizon were dispersed now, the
unfortunate victim of Berkeley could be of no further use to me.

Berkeley had been watching my interview with Louisa narrowly, and took
in our whole situation at a glance, or thought he did so.

He feared that Lady Louisa’s gaiety was a little too spasmodic to be
real, in one who was usually calm and reserved; and, hence, that it
cloaked some deeper emotion than met the eye. My sensation at her
appearance, and during the whole interview, must have been apparent even
to a less interested spectator than Berkeley, and his whole soul became
stirred by emotions of jealousy, rivalry, and revenge!

Having had the full entrée of Chillingham Park for the last month and
more, he had, as he conceived, made a fair lodgment, to use a military
phrase, in the body of the place—that he had the cards in his own hands,
and should lose no time in discovering how Lady Louisa was affected
towards him.

Cool, vain, insolent, and unimpassioned, this blasé parvenu thought over
his plans while the phaeton rolled along the Canterbury Road; and the
aristocratic aspect of the coroneted gate and castellated lodge, the far
extent of green sward stretching under the stately elms, closely shorn
and carefully rolled—sward that had never been ploughed since the days,
perhaps, when the Scot and Englishman measured their swords at Flodden
and Pinkey, kindled brighter the fire of ambition with him, and made him
resolve at all hazards to supplant me.

One fact he had resolved on—that, though the days of bodily
assassination had gone out of English society, or existed only in the
pages of sensational romance, if he failed to obtain Louisa Loftus, that
I should never succeed.

Not thus the shade may pass,
That is upon thy heart,
There is no sun in earthly skies
Can bid its gloom depart;

For falsehood’s stain is on it,
And cruelty and guile—
And these are stains that never pass,
And shades that never smile.
MISS LANDON.

The mansion of Chillingham is one of the stateliest in that part of
England.

It consists of a great central block and peristyle, with two wings
coming forward, forming a species of quadrangle. Detailed in the taste
that existed about 1680, and erected by the second peer of the house,
who had been created an earl at the Restoration, it was built entirely
of red brick, save the eight Corinthian columns of the peristyle, the
great flight of steps that ascended thereto, the elaborate cornices,
corners, balustrades, and vases, which were all of white freestone, and
in the style that is denominated Palladian.

Elaborately carved within the central pediment are the arms of the
Loftus family—a chevron engrailed between three trefoils, supported by
two eagles; the crest a hand grasping a battle-axe, with the motto,
“_Prend mot tel que je suis_,” or “Take me as I am.”

It occupies a gentle eminence in the centre of the spacious park, and
every embellishment has been added around to make the natural beauties
of the somewhat flat and peaceful scene to harmonize. Though equally
aristocratic in tone, it is very different in aspect from the bold and
quaint, gloomy, embattled, and romantic mansion of Calderwood, with its
turrets and loopholes for bullet or arrow; and is, in fact, a style of
edifice almost entirely peculiar to England and Holland.

Cora and Berkeley were as yet the only guests at the park, and on
handing the ladies from the phaeton, he begged a few minutes’ interview
with Lady Louisa, in the library or the conservatory, whichever she
pleased, after luncheon.

She coloured deeply, almost with annoyance, at a request so odd, and
looking at her watch, said—

“We lunch at two. Papa and mamma are in Canterbury; I have letters to
write, but shall be in the library at six—that is, two hours before
dinner.”

“Thanks; after we have tiffed then,” said he, lifting his hat, and
passing after her and Cora into the marble vestibule, with a
self-satisfied smile.

“What on earth can the man have to say in such a solemn fashion, Cora?”
whispered Louisa.

“I cannot conceive,” replied my cousin, thinking of something else.

The luncheon, at which those three were present, with a great
whiteheaded and white-waistcoated butler, and three powdered and
liveried servants in attendance, passed over almost in irksome silence,
for all were fully occupied by their own thoughts or plans.

Berkeley, who gazed at Louisa from time to time with ill-concealed
admiration and gratified vanity, felt that the absence of the earl and
countess at this interesting juncture boded well for his success,
opportunities for a tête-à-tête in that usually numerous and always
aristocratic household being few and far between.

Lady Louisa, who more than half divined her admirer’s hopes, was full of
her brief and hurried interview with me, and, in anticipation of a
scene, felt bored and worried; while poor Cora’s thoughts were all her
own; a little—no, it was a great sorrow, which none could know or
sympathize with, filled her heart in secret, for she was not
communicative, and thus, while she shared all the confidences and gossip
of my Lady Louisa, gave but little of her own in return.

So the progress of tiffin was “dooced slow,” as Berkeley thought it, and
he felt somewhat relieved when Lady Louisa rose, and, with a smile, said
to Cora—

“Excuse me, I am now going to write my letters;” adding to him, “I shall
not forget,” with another smile that, could he have read it aright,
boded but little success to his cherished plans.

Punctually to the time, Lady Louisa sailed into the library, where
Berkeley, whose courage had been alternately ebbing and flowing, was in
waiting. He handed her a seat, and, after a few deprecatory remarks, by
way of preface, took her right hand between his own, and, as she did not
immediately withdraw it, he assumed fresh courage, and made a formal
declaration of his love and admiration of her, and then, before she
could speak, he rambled on about his finances, his social habits, his
income—some six thousand per annum—his further expectations, and a great
deal more to the same purpose.

Lady Louisa remained perfectly silent, and this silence, as he had
nothing more to say, caused him infinite confusion.

“You do not speak—you do not answer, dear Lady Louisa. Do you not
understand me? I tell you that I love you with all the devotion of
which the human heart is capable, and I pray you to pardon the—aw,
aw—presumption of one in every respect so unworthy of you, in venturing
to address you in the language of love; but who can control
the—aw—emotions of the heart!”

Still she did not speak.

“Say that you pity—say that you—aw—understand me!” he urged.

“I understand, but cannot pity you,” replied Louisa, calmly and without
betraying the slightest flutter or embarrassment. “And I beg to assure
you that—that, in this matter, you must——”

“Address the earl, your father, dearest Lady Louisa—aw, aw—in writing,
or verbally?” was the cool and rapid question.

“Neither verbally nor in writing,” said she, rising, and assuming a
dignity of bearing that made Berkeley feel himself intolerably little.

“Aw, aw—the dooce! Then how?” he asked, having recourse to his
eyeglass.

“I was about to say that I thank you, Mr. Berkeley—thank you very much
indeed—for the great honour you do me in addressing me thus, and in
making me such an offer; but you must strive to dismiss all such
thoughts from your breast in future, as I could never, never love you!
Pardon me an avowal so very painful, and permit me to leave you.”

Her coolness, and almost unmoved bearing, piqued Berkeley, and wounded
his self-esteem, which was inordinate.

“Your bridal flowers,” said he, with a bitter smile, “must be blended
with the faded strawberry leaves of some Anglo-Norman line, I presume?”

“Not so, sir. I have hopes, I admit, but they are not quite so high,”
she replied, with a calm and steady glance, though her short upper lip
quivered with suppressed pride and anger.

“In—deed!” sneered Berkeley, as his habitual insolence came now
thoroughly to his aid; “and so you once and for all actually refuse me,
Lady Loftus?”

“I grieve to say, sir, that I do—once and for ever. Let us endeavour to
forget this very unpleasant scene, and, if possible, be as
before—friends.”

“And for whom do you refuse me?” he demanded, as pride and jealousy
rendered him blind to all future consequences.

“For whom, sir, matters not to you.”

“I think it matters very much to me.”

“Perhaps; but permit me to remind you, Mr. Berkeley, that I am unused to
be questioned thus.”

“Oh,” said he, bowing low, “doocid good. I—aw—crave your pardon; but if
you will not tell me your preference, Lady Louisa, shall I have the
honour of telling you?”

“If you please,” she replied, turning half away, and shrugging her
shoulders, while her colour deepened, and her dark eyes gleamed with
sudden anger.

“It is for one who is even now, perhaps, with a worthless creature,
whose society he prefers to yours—haw! haw! the cast-off mistress of a
brother officer!”

“It is false, sir!” she exclaimed, in an agitated voice, as she turned
her flashing eyes full upon him, and drew her tall and glorious figure
up like a tragedy queen; “it is false, and cannot be.”

“Oh, no, it is not false, my dear madam; but unfortunately, is—aw—too
true.”

There was a pause, during which they regarded each other steadily.

“Why could he not dine here at eight this evening?” asked Berkeley.

“Because duty required his attendance elsewhere, if it is Captain
Norcliff to whom you refer, sir; but I shall no longer bandy words here
with you.”

“Duty—doocid good! At that very hour this evening—eight—we shall find
them together, if you choose to accompany me.”

“I, sir, accompany you?” she repeated, disdainfully.

“Yes.”

“To where he is—with her?”

“Yes.”

“Dare you make such a proposition to me?”

“I do dare,” he replied, with blind fury; “and I tell you further, Lady
Louisa Loftus, that this fine and moral young gentleman, Captain
Norcliff, has an affair with a girl well known to all our mess; as the
French, happily would term her, _une femme entretenue_, of a brother
officer—one who has a doocid flaw in her fair fame, and most decided
kick in her gallop,” he added, coarsely and maliciously, determined at
all hazards to ruin me with Louisa, and even with my uncle and cousin,
though he could gain nothing thereby.

“And you, his friend, tell me of this!” exclaimed Louisa, with withering
scorn in her manner, as she played nervously with the rose diamond ring
I had given her.

“Will you and Miss Calderwood accompany me this evening to the cottage
near the Reculvers, and I shall have the pleasure of showing you how our
modern Captain Bailey solaces himself in ’country quarters.’”

At the mention of this cottage Lady Louisa started, and changed colour
visibly, and it was then Berkeley’s turn to smile, for certain odd
rumours concerning it and its beautiful occupant had reached her through
the servants at the park, and more particularly her own attendant; but
recollecting her position, she said, loftily and decidedly, while
cresting up her haughty head—

“’Tis false, sir! I am indisposed to act the spy, and he will not be
there.”

“Oh, yes, he will be there, be true as a turtle-dove—exact as—haw—the
clock at the Horse Guards. We shall find him mingling his tears with
those of the Traviata; a philanthropic Howard in a lancer uniform—a very
Joseph—haw—haw—’a man of snow?’”

“Sir!” exclaimed Lady Loftus, stamping her little foot.

“He’s been devilish hard up of late—got fifty pounds this morning from
the paymaster—so his man told mine; the girl’s a dancer, and every one
knows they are doocid expensive cattle to keep and shoe.”

“Sir, you forget yourself!” exclaimed Lady Louisa, while her eyes
flashed with an expression of rage, which even her long lashes failed to
soften. “Papa and mamma are to dine at the Priory—so this evening I am
free, and you shall drive us, that is, Miss Calderwood and me—to that
odious cottage, and with my own eyes I shall prove who is false, you or
he!”

“Agreed, I am quite at your disposal,” said he, bowing low.

And so ended this singular interview. So ended Berkeley’s hopes of all
but gratified malice, and they separated, each with anger against the
other sparkling in their eyes, and burning in their hearts.

* * * * *

Louisa at once sought Cora, and related all that had passed—the abrupt
proposal and its singular sequel—little knowing that the latter portion
of her narrative, like a double-edged sword, cut two ways at once, and
how her words stabbed poor Cora to the heart; for the good girl would
rather have heard that I was steady and faithful in my regard for her
brilliant rival than that I was the creature Berkeley had striven to
make me appear.

“I have loved your cousin Newton too much to cease doing so now, unless
I find him unworthy, when I shall thrust his image from my heart as if I
had never seen or known him! and I feel, Cora Calderwood, that I must
either love or hate him!” exclaimed Louisa, with a strange energy that
quite startled the quiet Scottish girl. “I have a craving to learn his
truth or his falsehood, personally and undoubtedly. So you shall come
with me, Cora. ’Tis only your cousin you seek!”

“Louisa Loftus,” she exclaimed. “I cannot, and will not, believe, in
this duplicity or depravity of my cousin Newton.”




“We shall go to this vile woman’s cottage, dear, in secret, and learn
the truth for ourselves.”

“Even at the risk of appearing guilty of espionage?”

“At all risks!” was the impetuous reply. “That cottage by the
Reculvers! Aha! I remember that mamma’s _soubrette_ said something
about the young person who resides there with an old woman, her mother,
or aunt, or something equally veritable and creditable; and added that
no one was ever known to visit her, save a gentleman like an
officer—mark that, like an officer—who usually came on horseback, and at
night.”

“Oh, Louisa, you do not—you cannot—you shall not believe all those
slanders about dear Newton,” said Cora, vehemently, in a passion of
tears, as she threw herself on the heaving bosom of her more fiery and
energetic friend, who, however, wept also. “Did you not remark how pale,
almost haggard, poor Newton looked when we saw him with his troop
to-day?”

“Well, perhaps nocturnal rambles and late rides from the Reculvers——”

“Now peace, Lady Loftus, if you would not break my heart,” exclaimed
Cora, arresting a cutting remark by a kiss on her rosy and tremulous
lips.

About twilight the pony phaeton again set forth from Chillingham Park
with the two young ladies. There was no outrider in attendance on this
occasion; and their well-cloaked charioteer was Mr. De Warr Berkeley,
who was very silent, to whom they never spoke, and who, to tell the
truth, felt somewhat ill at ease now, and scarcely knew where the whole
affair would end.

One fact he was certain of. He knew, from past experience, and my
general character when serving in India, that I was not to be trifled
with.

He would, perhaps, have backed out of the whole matter, could he have
seen how to do so. Then Louisa was inflexible, though Cora was almost
passive.

The ladies felt that, even were the information true, they should not
the less hate and despise the informant, who gratified his spite and
malice at the expense of a friend on the one hand, and of their peace on
the other.

“We are doing wrong, dearest Louisa,” Cora whispered, as the ponderous
park gates clanked heavily behind them, and they bowled along the
darkening road, towards where the spires of Canterbury were visible
against the flush that lingered in the sky to the westward.

“I know that in one sense we are so,” replied Lady Louisa, through her
clenched teeth and closely-drawn veil; “but I am not the less determined
to solve this matter, to probe it to the utmost, and to convict Captain
Norcliff or Mr. Berkeley of perfidy. So take courage, and _allons_, my
love!”

As they proceeded the April twilight deepened. Once or twice Cora spoke
of returning; and then it was Berkeley who urged them to proceed.

“Aw—haw, doocid absurd—don’t hang fire now, ladies, please,” said he.
“We shall draw the cover directly.”

Yet he was not without unpleasant misgiving as to how he might figure
after “the cover” was drawn, unless he could convey the ladies away
instantly, before explanations took place, and this was a part of his
intended programme.

“After having convincing proof that Captain Norcliff is here, you will,
of course, not remain—aw—to upbraid, and all that sort of thing, Lady
Louisa?” he asked, rather nervously.

“Proceed, sir, but do not question me,” was the haughty response, which
made his cheek flush with rage in the shade. For now Lady Loftus
remembered, and felt fully, that in her anger and confusion she had been
completely thrown off her guard; and that she had revealed and
acknowledged our mutual engagement, and her passion for me, to Cora
Calderwood (who had always suspected it), and, worse than all, to
Berkeley, whom she heartily despised, and who, she feared, might make a
dangerous use of the information he had won.

She had also been lured into committing an act of espionage, far from
proper or becoming. But, nevertheless, she resolved to go through it
now, and to probe the ugly affair to the end at all hazards—even to
facing the fiery anger of her mother, the lofty indignation of the earl,
and the vacant and senile astonishment of my Lord Slubber.

“How strange it is, Cora,” she whispered, as they sat hand in hand,
“that one impulse leads me still to love Newton, and yet another impulse
lures me to hate him! Where is my constitutional, and where are my
family pride and womanly modesty, when I stoop to an act like this, and
drag you, poor child, into it, too? Oh, I must love him very much
surely—and you, Cora—you——”

“I love him, too,” was the calm and breathless response, under the
closely-drawn veil.

“Of course you do—he is your cousin, and your old playmate.”

Cora assented only by a little sigh.

They both, it appeared afterwards, hoped desperately that Berkeley might
yet be mistaken in the whole affair, so far as I was concerned, for they
felt bitterly the truth of the maxim, that “faith once destroyed is
destroyed for ever, unless in a heart which is in itself intrinsically
faithless.”

In the dusk tears rolled unseen down the gentle face of Cora; but Louisa
suppressed all appearance of emotion by biting her nether lip, and
clenching her little white teeth, like the heroine of a French
melodrama.

“Here we are at last! Hush! let us approach softly,” said Berkeley, as
they drew near the little cottage where Miss Auriol resided; and he
turned the phaeton into a grassy lane, and between high hedges close by;
threw open a private wicket, and assisted Cora to alight; but disdaining
the assistance of his proffered arm, Lady Louisa sprang to the ground
alone.

“This way—follow me, and softly, if you please,” said Berkeley, as he
drew forth a private latch-key for the back door—a means of entrance
possessed by himself alone—and they traversed the little flower-garden
which lay around the cottage.

My horse stood at the front door, with his bridle fastened to the porch;
and to this circumstance he took care to draw their attention.

“It is Norcliff’s black nag—his cover hack with the white star on the
counter. You—aw—recognise it, ladies?” he whispered.

“A present to him from my poor papa,” said Cora, reproachfully, as her
heart beat painfully, and Louisa bit her lips as the agony of conviction
stole upon her.

“Proceed, sir,” said she, haughtily; “what next?”

“Voices in the parlour—it is there our birds must be; this way,” said
Berkeley, who, after a rapid inspection of the interior, between the
green trailers, scarlet-runners, and white muslin curtains, had
satisfied himself as to who were within, and felt assured that if he
lost Lady Louisa, I, at least, should never win her, and that if, on one
hand, he made me an enemy, on the other, he got handsomely rid of the
unhappy girl of whose caresses he had long since grown weary, and whose
importunities and reproaches bored and fretted him now.

Between him and me there would be no friendship wasted, no love lost; so
he consoled himself by the dangerous maxim, “that all is fair in love or
war,” as he opened the door softly with his latch-key, and led his now
agitated companions into the interior of the cottage.

Such men are always the most unscrupulous in revenge. I have seen
murder in his eyes a score of times in the last fortnight. If our lines
had fallen in the pleasant Italian places, he would have invested twenty
scudi long ago in hiring a dagger. As it is, civilization and the rural
police stand our friends.—GUY LIVINGSTONE.

The day wore away, the shadows of evening came, and all unaware of the
rod that was in pickle for me, and the awkward surprise that was
preparing, after making a most careful toilet at the barracks, that I
might keep my cherished appointment at the park, I stuffed Mr.
Goldrick’s remittance into my porte-monnaie, and set out in mufti for
the cottage near the Reculvers. As I cantered along, anxious to perform
my duty there, and without loss of time to turn my bridle towards
Chillingham Park, I contrasted the happiness and the hopefulness of
Louisa’s love and mine with the futile passion which the poor lost Agnes
Auriol cherished for the worthless Berkeley; and while my heart,
inspired by new and joyous impulses since the morning interview,
sincerely mourned for her, it was at the same time soothed by the
conviction that I could enable her to depart on that melancholy and
filial pilgrimage to which she had dedicated her failing—it too surely
seemed her last—energies.

I half hoped, too, that I might hear no more of her and her sorrows, and
with the varied contingencies of foreign service in the field before me,
there were ten chances to one against my ever doing so.

I had more than once asked of myself why this unfortunate young lady so
deeply interested me; and with what object, if not pure benevolence, and
to learn something of Berkeley’s movements, I sought or continued her
acquaintance.

To Louisa my love and constancy remained unshaken; and fanned anew by
the morning’s interview, they were stronger now than ever. Yet,
to-night, some strange impulse urged me on this secret visit—one that I
had already resolved should be the last—-when prudence should have made
me pause, and even at the hazard of wounding Miss Auriol’s feelings,
have sent by the hand of Willie Pitblado the promised money to Mrs.
Goldsworthy.

Berkeley, from the first hour we met together at the mess of the
lancers, I had ever disliked, and I scarcely knew why; but, like the
Chevalier Achille, I felt that, “if I had a star of destiny, and that
man another, my star grew livid and pale when his crossed it.” It was
the old adage of Dr. Fell, and I had a conviction that he was
predestined to work me mischief in some way, or in some fashion, and now
the time had come.

I reached the cottage, left my horse at the little green trellis-work
porch, and was duly ushered into the presence of Miss Auriol by her
anxious and motherly old attendant. She was seated in an easy-chair,
half propped up by pillows, and so great was the languor oppressing her,
that on this evening (for the air was remarkably close) she could
scarcely rise to greet me.

A small scarlet shawl was spread over her head; and its bright hue, when
taken in concert with the extreme pallor and purity of her complexion,
and the blackness of her smoothly banded hair, made the girl’s strange
beauty more fascinating and piquante than ever.

There was a charm in her half blush, her smiling bow, and the timid
grace with which she received me, which made me feel that, with all the
faults of the past, there was a great degree of worth and sincerity in
Agnes Auriol still, and that she merited a very different fate in life;
but, anxious to keep my appointment at the park, I at once handed her
the porte-monnaie containing the money, and without accepting the chair
proffered to me by Mrs. Goldsworthy, or even laying aside my hat, I
said—

“Miss Auriol, I have come in great haste, and am required elsewhere,
almost at this moment. There you will find what you require for your
purpose and immediate necessities.”

“Captain Norcliff, this kindness is too much—too much. Nurse Goldsworthy
told me that you had promised this gift; but I—I know not if I should
accept—if I dare accept it from you——”

Tears choked her utterance, and then came on a paroxysm of her hard,
dry, and racking cough.

I placed a hand caressingly on her head, and advised her to be careful
of her health, for that terrible cough——”Is all the hope I have now of
ultimate relief,” said she, looking up, with her dark eyes swimming in
tears, and with a sublime brightness in them. “My dear mamma died of
consumption, and with just such a cough; so did all my little brothers
and sisters; and the presentiment is strong within me that I shall join
them ere long—hence my wish, to die near the place where they lie.”

“You must not talk in this mournful way, Miss Auriol—you are too
beautiful and too young to court such an early fate,” said I.

“Yet my little golden-haired brother, for whom I toiled and starved
myself amid the vast and selfish wilderness of London, died earlier.
Oh, Captain Norcliff, I would that he and I had passed away together,
and now one grave might have held us; but then I had Berkeley to live
for—he had not as yet deceived me. Love gave me hope, and I had my
father’s fair name to redeem. I shall die soon—I know and feel it.
Consumption was my only inheritance, and the agony of mind I have so
long endured, since my days of toil and sin, has but served to encourage
and develop that terrible disease.”

As she said this, her teeth chattered, as if with cold, and I turned her
chair nearer to the scanty fire that burned in the little grate.

“And this money, which you, sir, so kindly give me; I know not, as I
said before, whether I should accept it—indeed, I should not——”

“Nay, don’t offend me by a refusal,” said I, taking her cold and slender
fingers in mine, and closing them over the packet of notes.

“But, sir—sir,” she urged plaintively, “even if I am spared to live a
few years, I shall never be able to return it.”

“Heed not that, Miss Auriol—you may outlive me; the end of this month
will see me far away from Britain.”

She gazed at me earnestly and wistfully, and said—

“Heaven bless and protect you, sir! My last prayers shall be for you
and for your safety,” and bowing her face upon my hand, she kissed it
and wept, while I strove in vain to withdraw it; but at the same time
placed the other kindly on her head, to soothe and reassure her.

At that moment the door of the little parlour was thrown violently open,
and a cry of terror escaped Mrs. Goldsworthy. I looked up, and felt as
if I had been thunderstruck.

There stood Lady Louisa Loftus, and Cora, and Berkeley. Those three
here! I mentally wondered who the deuce would come next.

I drew hurriedly back from Miss Auriol, who looked up in alarm, and then
her eyes wandered in bewilderment from the faces of her fair visitors,
till they settled with a sad, haggard, and beseeching stare, upon the
well-moustached face of Berkeley, who stood there with his usual
unmeaning smile.

“Doocid good tableau—haw!” he muttered.

“So—so this is the duty which prevented us from having the pleasure of
your company at dinner, Captain Norcliff?” said Lady Louisa.

“A pressing duty, doubtless,” added Berkeley.

“Whence this intrusion?” I demanded, perceiving the whole network of
treachery at a glance. “Whence this intrusion, Mr. Berkeley?” I
fiercely reiterated, while my heart swelled with passion at my equivocal
position, and I felt that my life, certainly the loss of Louisa’s love,
might pay the penalty of my supposed, and, for aught I knew, alleged
intrigue with a poor creature whom I simply pitied.

I felt that I was outwitted and overmatched by a cold-blooded, cunning,
and sarcastic parvenu; one of those padded and perfumed military snobs,
who are among her Majesty’s worst bargains, and who excite alike the
contempt of the soldier and the ridicule of the civilian. I felt, too,
all the peril of my position, and almost quailed before the strange,
wild glitter of Louisa’s eyes, as she surveyed me. They wore such a
smile as might have lit up those of Judith, when she writhed her white
fingers in the curly pate of the sleeping Holofernes.

“Did you hear me speak, Mr. Berkeley?” I thundered out.

“Aw—aw——” he was beginning.

“He will absolutely fight for this creature!” said Louisa, “Poor Cora, I
am sorry that you have to blush for your worthy cousin.”

Instead of blushing, poor gentle Cora wept profusely, and knew not what
to think; terror seemed to be her prevailing emotion.

“What am I to understand by all this?” I resumed. “You here, Lady
Loftus, and you, Cora? Mr. Berkeley’s visit I might expect; but your
appearance here, ladies, and at this hour, is not involuntary.
Speak—explain—or rather, sir, I shall seek another place and time, and
if—as I too surely believe—this scene has been planned and developed by
you, Mr. Berkeley, woe to you, for your life shall pay the penalty.”

He grew pale, and winced a little, and then resumed his eternal smile.

“Such a scene to figure in!” said Louisa, with lofty scorn; “but this
cottage shall be pulled down—it stands on papa’s land; and the steward
should be careful whom he permits as tenants in the vicinity of
Chillingham Park.”

Crushed to the dust by shame, humiliation, and illness, poor Agnes
Auriol covered her face with her handkerchief, on which the blood-spots
increased with every fresh fit of coughing, and her old nurse, oblivious
of us all, spread her fat arms caressingly and protectingly round her;
but the hateful Berkeley looked coldly and pitilessly on.

“Hear me, Lady Louisa,” said I; “and a few words will serve to explain
why I am here.”

“Oh, your purse in that creature’s hand explains all, sir!” she replied,
with a cutting smile.

“Oh, Newton, Newton!” sobbed Cora; “it seems all too true—why should you
give that girl money?”

Berkeley was the object on which I should have turned; but Lady Louisa
fascinated me, and her presence and Cora’s alone prevented me from
knocking him down, or giving him a cut across the face with my
riding-whip. Louisa was, indeed, a picture!

Drawn up to the fullest extent of her tall figure, she stood with her
stately head thrown well back, and her rounded form half turned away, as
if in disdain. An ample Indian shawl of alternate black, gold, and
scarlet stripes had half fallen from her shoulder; her dress—she had
been preparing for dinner when she started on this unlucky and unseemly
errand—a bright, maize-coloured silk, with trimmings and flounces of
rich black lace, displayed the magnificent development of her bust and
lithe waist, and accorded well with her complexion. Her haughty nose,
with its slender pink nostrils, seemed to curl with anger, and her
forehead appeared lower than usual, so heavily fell the rippling masses
of dark hair over her face, which was paler than ever, though the blood
did flow furiously under that transparent skin as her anger gathered.

Her lips, usually scarlet as the petals of the fuschia, were now
colourless; the short upper one was defined and stern; the lower, full
and pouting, trembled with the emotion which she strove to repress; and
her glorious black eyes had in them a mingled expression of fierce
anger, deep reproach, sorrowing love for me, and shame for the whole
affair—such an expression as I hoped never to see in them again.

When her anger prevailed, it was no summer lightning that flashed from
the dark eyes of Louisa—for even her great Saxon ancestor, Lofthus, who
held that thanedom in Yorkshire, before England’s conqueror came over at
the head of his high-born housebreakers, had not a prouder or more fiery
temper.

She gave me a deep, earnest, silent, and tearful glance, that said more
than a thousand words, and, taking Cora by the hand, turned and retired
from the cottage before I could speak—turned with the air of one alike
convinced and resolved.

Berkeley, usually so cool and blasé, had also a strange light in his
eyes; but it was such a glitter as one might expect to see in the
carbuncly orbs of the hooded snake; and having, evidently, no desire to
be left with me alone, he turned rather precipitately and followed the
ladies.

Just as he was leaving the cottage, however, I made a spring after him,
and grasping his shoulder, wheeled him fiercely round until he faced me.

“Mr. Berkeley,” said I, in the hoarse, low voice of concentrated
passion, “to-night, at head-quarters, this matter shall be arranged for
a meeting to-morrow. Your life or mine must be the penalty of this
little sensation scene, which your infernal malice has so skilfully
contrived!”

“Aw—aw—don’t understand, unless you mean——”

“That you must meet me, sir,” said I, as with my leather riding-glove I
struck him full across the face; “meet me on other ground than this.”

His eyes flashed now, and he grew very pale, while his fingers twitched
convulsively; but, resuming his smile, he said—

“You are warm, Captain Norcliff—out of temper, and rude, in fact;
but—aw—bah! people don’t fight duels nowadays, in our service, at least.
Since Munro of the Horse Guards fought that doocid duel with Fawcett of
the 55th, a hostile meeting has become a hanging affair—a little matter
for a coroner’s jury and Calcraft’s consideration. So—aw—keep your
temper, and _au revoir_.”

Lady Loftus and Cora, who had already sprung unaided into the phaeton,
were calling upon him—upon him, and not upon me!—so he lifted his hat,
with a bow of ironical politeness, and joined them, after which I soon
heard the sound of the wheels die away in the distance.

For a moment I remained as if stunned by the suddenness and peculiarity
of the whole affair; the next moment all my resolutions were taken.

I returned to the parlour, where Miss Auriol was still sobbing, but not
violently—she was too weak for that.

“Mrs. Goldsworthy,” said I, “you must have perceived the false position
in which we have been placed to-night, and must be aware that I can
return no more. Keep for Miss Auriol the money I have given her, and be
as you have hitherto been, loving and faithful. So now good-bye.”

I felt the impropriety and indelicacy of further protracting so
unpleasant an interview, and, lightly pressing the passive hands of the
girl and of her nurse, before either could speak I had left the cottage,
and was in my saddle, spurring like a madman along the highway towards
the barracks on the Thanet road, intent only on exposing Berkeley and
avenging myself.

My subalterns, Frank Jocelyn and Sir Harry Scarlett, were too young and
inexperienced to be consulted in the matter, so I resolved to start by
the night train for Maidstone, and lay it before my older friends at
head-quarters.

I gave my horse to my groom, Lanty O’Regan, and hurried to my rooms, and
took out my pistol-case, as my only luggage. I felt hot, feverish, mad
almost, and a goblet of well-iced champagne failed to soothe me. I
heard the laughter, the clinking of glasses, and the joviality of the
hussar mess ringing through the open windows as I crossed the dark
barrack square on my way to the railway station; but when I was about to
issue from the main-guard gate Pitblado placed in my hand a little
packet, which a mounted servant had just brought for me, and which
seemed to contain a little box.

Trembling, I opened it by the light of the main-guard lantern, and found
it to contain my ring—my famous Rangoon ring—_returned_.

I placed it quietly on the finger from whence I had drawn it when at
Calderwood Glen, and thanking the sentry who held the lantern with some
smiling remark, continued my way to the train, which soon bore me to
Maidstone.

Though I knew it not, Berkeley was in another compartment of the
carriage I occupied.