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with another man's wife might drive him to insanity, and even suicide. He must never know the truth-must live on, bereaved, indeed, and sorrowful, but unstained by shame. She would sacrifice herself! She would burden his memory only as an object of hatred, scorn, and disgust, or worse still, drop out of his existence as if she had never belonged to it, like some fantastic dream that fades with light of day. The first thing to be thought of was escape. Let him believe her false, infamous, vilest of the vile. Perhaps the worse he thought of her the easier it would be for him to bear his affliction, the sooner he might teach his heart to forget. Delancy (she could not bring herself to think of him as her husband) might easily be silenced with a bribe. She would thus gain time. She wanted but a few hours, and her own resolution could accomplish the rest. Concealed in London, under an assumed name, she would be lost to both these men, and while Delancy would return to his old courses and prey upon society for a livelihood, Lexley would go about his parish, sorrowful, heart-broken, but at least ignorant of the sad and shameful truth. She had no fear of any explanation between them; the sharper had seemed so fully impressed with the case as she put it to him—that his secret was only of value while undisclosed and used against herself; like a bubble it would burst and vanish the moment it was touched.
She sat down to write a few lines that might account for her sudden departure, but her hand shook so she was obliged to desist. She had never written to Lexley since their marriage. Who shall measure the anguish with which she tore up the sheet on which was scored an illegible scrawl, meant for “Dearest Algy," and laid the fragments in her bosom, against her heart ?
But she walked downstairs, rang the bell, and ordered Peter to be brought round with the basket carriage in a state of outward composure too perfect not to be assumed. Young Perigord, coming in to dress for dinner, thought he had never seen her looking so beautiful nor so pale.
“ Can I do anything for you in London ?" said she, giving him her hand. “I am going up by the 7.50, and must start at once, or I shall lose my train."
Nothing the matter ?” he asked, anxiously. “A great deal the matter,” she answered, with a wan smile; “I am suffering horribly. And there is only one man who can do anything for acute neuralgia. Tell Mr. Lexley, with—with my love, that if I am not back to dinner to-morrow I shall write. Take good care of him when I am gone. Good-bye.”
“You should try port wine," said the young gentleman; but even while he spoke she had vanished to get ready for the journey.
She saw the housemaid ; she visited the laundry; she gave directions to all the servants; and not one of them observed anything remark
able in her appearance, except that “missis” looked paler than usual - an alteration they attributed to the heat. Even the cook, on whom she impressed some final instructions regarding dinner, could not but admire her knowledge of the details by which a man is made comfortable in his own home.
Lastly, hearing Peter snorting at the front door, she stole into her husband's dressing-room, where she looked over and smoothed the white bands in which he would preach the following Sunday.
If he found them more limp than usual, he never asked the reason, nor knew that tears had rained upon them, bitterer than the fountains of Marah, from the eyes he had worshipped too fondly, that were already dim with longing to look into his own, if only once again.
WITH money in his pocket, the spoils of his own predatory skill, Mr. Dalton, as he now chose to be called, was conscious of a genial flow of spirits, that rendered him equal to any social occasion, requiring erperience, audacity, or finesse. "Capital,” he said to himself, affectionately smoothing out the creases of a five-pound note as he spread it on the table, “capital is all I require, to be one of the most successful men of the day. Capital has induced me to embark on all my noblest enterprises, but a little more capital has always been wanting to enable me to hold on and sweep the board in a fresh deal. Waiter! devilled kidneys, another egg, and a small glass of brandy."
Mr. Dalton was breakfasting in the best sitting-room of the Royal Hotel, Middleton. Any doubts entertained by its excellent landlady of her guest's solvency had been set at rest by the production of a roll of notes, which he had counted with much ostentation, while consuming sherry and bitters in the bar; causing her to indorse the opinion of John, the superannuated waiter, who pronounced Mr. Dalton “ haffable and quite the gentleman."
Such visitors are always well treated at a house of entertainment. They know what to order, when it should be served, and how much they ought to pay for it. Mr. Dalton's breakfast seemed ample and luxurious, nor was he the man to lose any particle of present enjoyment because the future was uncertain; and on the past it was better not to dwell. He finished his devilled kidneys to the last mouthful, he smacked his lips over the hot coffee, he tossed the small glass of brandy down his throat at one gulp, as if he was used to it, and it agreed with him. Throwing himself back in his chair he then lit one of the Royal's choicest cigars at sixpence—a fabrication of dried cabbage-leaves and opium, suggesting the possibility of smoking
tobacco in the form of snuff, and proceeded to arrange his plans for the day.
The result of these cogitations caused him to decide on immediate action, and the bell was rung for John forth with.
“ Waiter, bring me an 'Army List.'
“Army List,' sir ? yes, sir,” said John, and vanished; well knowing there was nothing of the kind in the house.
Boots,” however, was sent to borrow an old one from the circulating library, and Mr. Dalton, calling for pens, ink and paper, studied it with much assiduity. Then he wrote three letters in different hands, with different signatures, addressed, “ Francis Dalton, Esq., &c., &c., &c.," and marked “On Her Majesty's Service." These he frayed and fingered at the edges, giving them the appearance of having been carried about in a coat-pocket, and also smudged the envelopes with a little dirt—a substance it was not difficult to find in any part of the hotel sitting-room. These preparations completed, the bell was rung for John once more.
Waiter," said the guest, interrogatively, "there are some cavalry in the Barracks ?”
Yes, sir,” answered John, thinking it was high time the windows were cleaned, and wondering if he would have to clean them.
“ What regiment, do you know?"
John had “ heard the number, but could not call it to minddragoons,” he believed. “The officers were exceeding haffable, and as far as he could see, hacted quite the gentleman !"
“Do they ever come down here ?"
“ Not often; they kep' theirselves to theirselves. There was a hexcellent billiard-table, too, and a "- skittle-ground, John would have added, but stopped, remembering that this delightful pastime was little in vogue with the higher classes.
“ Can you tell me any of their names ?" continued Mr. Dalton, arranging his collar in the glass over the chimney-piece.
“Yes," John could do that. They was a Captain Nokes an'a Captain Stokes." He bore these in mind in consequence of their similarity. “He see one of 'em, he couldn't tell which, go by the house this morning, just after you rang your bell, sir, for breakfast.”
The waiter then proceeded to take away plates, cups and saucers, with as much clatter as possible, and rebuffed in his attempt to elicit any directions as to luncheon or dinner, retired in good order, despondent, yet not entirely yielding to defeat.
From Jobn, it was hopeless to expect more information; but, lounging up the main street of the town, Mr. Dalton passed a confectioner's shop, containing a gaudy young lady behind a counter, and took advantage of his opportunity. The gaudy young lady served him a glass of cherry-brandy, with a smirk that denoted no disinclination
for a little gossip, and a happy compliment conveying certain delicate allusions to her eyes, colour, and personal charms, placed the pair on a footing of confidential intercourse at once.
From this competent authority, Mr. Dalton learned that Middleton was graced by the presence of what she was pleased to call, “ the millingtary;" that a whole regiment, with its band, unhappily could not find room in the Barracks, the only thing wanting to constitute perfect bliss; that she believed “as there was only two captins' at the present speakin', and she couldn't say, whether there was any other officers or not; but didn't the gentleman (who, perhaps, belonged to the millingtary himself), didn't he think a 'orse-soldier, particularly when he was riding his ’orse, one of the most beautiful sights on earth ?”.
“ Next to a pretty woman,” said Dalton, with such a bow as completed the conquest it had cost him two glasses of vile cherry-brandy to make.
The gaudy young lady gave a little sigh when he lounged out of the shop, but was presently comforted on reflecting that if he remained at Middleton he was sure to look in again.
Over the barracks, to which Mr. Dalton now took his way, reigned an utter stagnation of life and movement. Detachments, like regiments, become torpid at two periods of the day; namely, ten minutes after the men's dinners and ten minutes before afternoon parade. Even the sentry at the gate, a gigantic dragoon, redolent at ten paces of stables, tobacco and pipe-clay, seemed in danger of committing that heinous military offence, slumber on his post, and stared vacantly at the dry and dusty parade-ground, more like an automaton than a living man, who could rein a trooper, use a sword, and drink a gallon of beer at a sitting without its having the slightest effect. He yawned indeed once, and brought his spurs together with a clank, but these were the only tokens he betrayed of being alive.
In the officer's mess-room, a bare apartment tenanted by countless flies, sat our friends Nokes and Stokes, brought to the lowest stage of depression and vacuity, as men to whom life had nothing now to offer but resignation to their lot.
“And we can't have luncheon for an hour at least," said the latter officer, stretching his limbs to their longest, and considering whether he should smoke another cigar. "Such is destiny. I've done duty at Meerut, at Newbridge, at Portobello barracks, and once, for two weary months, on the west coast of Ireland; but of all forsaken places that can hold a dragoon I never saw the equal of Middleton at this season of the year.”
The other, who was smoking, nodded assent.
"I can't read for more than two hours a day,” continued Stokes, lashing himself into energy, while he recapitulated his grievances; "I can't learn the fiddle, for I haven't patience; nor the flute, for I
haven't wind. I can't play chess, right hand against left, nor cut with you
for sixpences, nor drink Badminton, nor even smoke—all day long. I wonder what fellows did in the Bastile ? One hears of them kept there for years; I dare say it wasn't so dull as this place. Why can't we be quartered here in the hunting season? That's the War Office, I suppose. Another of their precious civilian mulls! That reminds me. Why shouldn't we go and call on the Dennisons, at Plumpton Priors ?"
“Not at home," answered his friend. “Gone to London. Saw Mrs. D. in Pall Mall the day before yesterday.”
“Done again !" replied Stokes. “ Then there's nothing for it but to take a walk-I hate taking a walk !-or to lie down and sleep till dinner-time. It's as bad as going round the Cape in a transport !"
“Worse," observed Nokes. But even while he spoke there came relief in sight.
Mr. Dalton, who had so arranged his limited wardrobe as to present that semi-sporting appearance which is attainable by means of scanty trowsers, a very stiff collar, and a forward set of the hat, was now crossing the parade-ground, with an obvious design of taking the officer's quarters by storm. Stokes, being first to notice him, leaped from his chair as though vitality were restored by the very sight of a visitor, and watched his approach from the mess-room window, with a running commentary on the dress, manners and general appearance of this welcome arrival.
"Parson? No; too good a hat. Sawbones? Don't think it; would be in a greater hurry. Manager of county bank? Too little stomach. Manager of provincial theatre ? Too much collar. The race lies between three : swell photographer, surveyor from the Board of Works, or man with a horse to sell. Lay you six to five you don't name the winner.”
“Lay you five to four it's none of them," answered Nokes; “but we'll have him in and liquor him up, whoever he is.”
By this time Mr. Dalton had reached the door, and was feigning to look for a bell that did not exist. A ubiquitous mess-waiter, in a clean linen jacket, extricated him from this difficulty, and presently appeared with the visitor's card on a salver.
Stokes handed it to Nokes. “Never saw the name before,” said he. “Don't know him from Adam; do you?"
Nokes was a man of reflection. “Might be a chap from the village,” he suggested," with a writ for Fluffy.”
“Fluffy,” his junior subaltern, a handsome young fellow, given to spending too much money, was playing cricket eleven miles off at that moment.
“Nonsense,” replied Stokes. “Fluffy told me yesterday old Fluff has parted freely and squared everything."