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though he had left two sovereigns and a handful of silver on his dressing-table, so large a sum as five pounds would necessitate a draft on his agent.
“He's a deuced pleasant fellow,” continued the former. there's something about him too that isn't quite the clean potato. What a beggar it is to talk !”.
“ Did you see the scar on his left hand ?” asked Stokes. “It looked deep enough for a sabre cut. I wonder whether it is ?”
“That's how they brand them in the galleys," answered his friend. “I've seen worse players at billiards," he added after a pause.
“He's a good style,” said Stokes, “but I call him awfully loose and uncertain in his execution. We'gave him a skinful.
It's quite possible, old man, that he was a trifle screwed."
“Not he," replied the other. And I am inclined to think Nokes was right.
The Middleton Bank opened at 9 A.m., and while our two captains, assisted by Fluffy and his brother subaltern, were manæuvring the squadron with considerable pomp on the racecourse, Mr. Dalton presented their respective cheques. The clerk, who had seen the three billiard players together the night before, cashed them without hesitation, wishing in his heart he could afford to wager as freely on his favourite game. Buttoning in his breast-pocket Bank of England notes to the amount of a hundred for the one and seventy-five pounds for the other, Mr. Dalton congratulated himself on having devoted some spare hours to the art of caligraphy as applied to the mutation of written characters and figures. He felt his studies had not been
A train started for London at ten, and an omnibus left the hotel for the station at five minutes before the hour. Boots, who helped with the luggage, receiving a shilling from Mr. Dalton on his departure, expressed a hope, which was never realised, that they might soon see their visitor at the Royal again.
We all know the vague sensation of dismay with which we wake in the morning after an event that has occasioned us grief, vexation, or inconvenience. The man within the man, who never goes to sleep, nor forgets himself, nor loses his head, nor fails to remind us what fools we are, has the clearest perception of that which took place yesterday, but as he can only admonish us through the medium of our faculties, until these are thoroughly aroused we escape with a dull sense of depression and misgiving, akin to nightmare, but wanting even so much of reality as there is in a dream.
The familiar objects in his bed-chamber looked strange to Lexley without her presence who had made the comfort no less than the romance of his everyday life. He rose early and went out into the morning air, striving to shake off a feeling of gloom and despondency that common sense told him was utterly unreasonable, and that must be dispelled immediately on the arrival of the post.
Breakfasting with his pupil, the conversation could not but turn on his wife's departure, and his anxiety was no doubt relieved by their joint speculations; but the lad observed his tutor's cheek grow pale when the postman passed the window, and liked him, I think, all the better for the weakness.
Two letters were brought to the clergyman, neither of which was in Laura's handwriting, and he rose from his chair to conceal the spasm of pain that passed across his face at this disappointment.
“Of course there's no news of Mrs. Lexley, sir," said the youth's clear cheerful voice from the breakfast-table. “She didn't leave here till the country letters had gone out of London. I hope you'll have a good account by the second post, even if she don't come back herself. One misses a lady awfully at breakfast,” added this young philosopher. “Men always put too much water in the teapot for a second cup.'
“Of course!” exclaimed the tutor, brightening. "I never thought of that. What an idiot I was to forget about the London post! No doubt, she will be back this afternoon, and you shall have your tea made to-morrow on the first principles of science. Now let's go, and get our work done. Afterwards, I shall drive to the station, and meet the down express, at four o'clock.”
Lexley was a conscientious man, with a good deal of that hard-bitten English resolution to encounter pain, mental or physical, which we call pluck. He tried nobly to do his duty by the young gentleman whom he instructed, but found it even more difficult to fix his own attention than his pupil's, on the matter in hand. He worked doggedly on however by the clock, and felt, if possible, a keener sense of relief than did Perigord, when luncheon-time came and studies were over for the day. It is needless to say that Peter was required to put his best foot foremost, or that the basket carriage arrived at the station three-quarters of an hour too soon.
The down express was five minutes late. He thought it would never come. How his heart beat as it glided alongside the platform! How pale his cheek grew, and how sad he felt when it produced only the rector of an adjoining parish and Mr. Runt, the cattle-dealer, who never seemed to buy or sell cattle, but came and went from Smithfield regularly twice a week.
She could not be down to-day, that was clear; but of course, there would be a letter by the second post. The second post arrived. So did the letter. He read it amongst the roses, and this is what it said ;
“ Think of me as badly as you can. It will take months, I know ; but pray night and morning only to forget me. I am never coming back. You will never see me nor hear of me again. Search will be utterly useless. I have chosen my own part and mean to abide by it. You must never mention the name of her who has only brought you shame and sorrow, but who loves you still. You must learn to bate her. Hate her-despise her—forget her. Only, some day, when time has brought consolation, and you are happy with another, remember, that she who now writes this with a steady hand, would have given more than life for your sake, and that the other one cannot love you so fondly as Laura.”
A man shot through the heart, falls on his face, not his back, and in the same way there is an instinct in strong natures that resists the more bravely, the more intolerable the pain, the more overwhelming the blow. Lexley folded his letter with fingers that trembled not, and smiled a grim smile without a quiver of the lip, while he plucked one of the roses from her favourite tree, and pulled it to pieces, leaf by leaf, repeating unconsciously, the touching prayer of King Lear :
“Oh! let me not be mad- not mad, sweet heaven!” Then he retired to his study, and wrote to the father of his pupil. That pupil coming down to dinner was scared by his tutor's appearance as they met in the hall. Lexley's face looked white and drawn; there was a dull stare in his eye, like that of a suffering dumb animal, and he seemed ten years older since morning.
"Something very painful has taken place," said he. " It has decided me to ask your father's permission for you to return home tomorrow. You can drive the pony-carriage to the station. God bless you, my boy; you have been a pleasant companion, a true gentleman, and, I believe, a sincere friend. We shall not meet again, but I shall always think kindly of you. What has happened leaves me no alternative but solitude; at all events, for a considerable time, or I would not feel compelled to say good-bye.”
“ Can I do anything, sir ?" asked the lad, with tears in his eyes.
“ Nothing,” answered Lexley; and they sat down to dinner in silence.
When their meal was over, the clergyman retired to his study, and Perigord, somewhat dismayed, heard him lock himself in.
" Here's a go!" reflected this young gentleman; whose thoughts, like his conversation, were more or less couched in his own vernacular. “ Mrs. L. bolted, no doubt! and with that chap who was always hanging about and peeping into the garden over the hedge. Well, there is no accounting for women! I thought she was the right sort, if ever there was one. And such an ugly beggar, too. No more to be compared to Lexley than a sandman's donkey to the winner of the
Derby. And now, what's to become of me? The governor will be awfully put out. He won't like my being at home by myself, and be hates having me in London. There's nothing else for it, though. I shall be swelling it in the Park the day after to-morrow. Jemima will lend me her mare, I dare say. Shouldn't wonder if I was to have a ride with Annie Dennison. Won't that be jolly? But I'm sorry for Lexley, too. He's a thundering good one. I shall hate the next fellow who coaches me, I know."
Then he smoked his short pipe, with his head out of window, and turned complacently into bed, meditating on the Park, the theatre, Jemima's bay mare, and the public-school matches, at Lord's.
Under the same roof, separated from him only by half a dozen steps and a partition-wall, there was a struggle going on, as for life and death, no less fierce and protracted than his who wrestled of old at Penuel, through the livelong night "even to the breaking of the day."
Lexley neither slept nor rested, but passed his hours of agony pacing to and fro in his chamber, or flinging himself down on his knees in prayer. Only thus, and in a strength that was not his own, could he pass through the ordeal ; but he did pass through it, and when the summer sun arose it shone upon a man heart-broken but resigned. The lesson his duty bade him teach others, had not been lost on himself, and he tried to drink the bitter draught calmly, as knowing by whose hand it was pressed to his lips.
When the housemaid went to make his bed it was smooth as she had left it the day before.
“He haven't slept much, haven't master," said the woman, shaking up the pillows. “Dear, dear, I'm afraid now as his trouble's a’most too much for him to bear!" And so it would have been had he tried to carry it without assist
Had he not laid down his burden at the feet of One who never fails to stoop and succour such as plead for aid, grovelling helplessly in the dust.
On Lexley's thoughts and speculations, as they succeeded each other through the watches of that dreary night, it would be painful to dwell. With all the blindness of one who loves, with all the selfdeception to which the human heart is prone, it seemed impossible, in the face of his wife's letter, to put any construction on her flight but one. It was obvious that she had left him of her own free-will, and not alone. While the fond expressions of attachment, in which she bade him never forget her, did but dip in venom & shaft that her hand, and hers only, could have buried in his heart. Many a time during the struggle his natural impulses rose in their strength, not to be denied, and he longed to have his hand on the villain's throat who had covered him with this dark shame, inflicted on him this great injury; but ever with the human longing for vengeance came the
memory of a divine face, crowned with its diadem of suffering, that smiled forgiveness on those who inflicted his torture, even in the agony of a cruel and shameful death. Then he would fall once more on his
knees and pray.
But he never shed a tear. No, not even when morning broke, and he felt his petitions had been so answered, that he was able to think calmly of the woman who injured him, and to hope that she might never undergo anything like the misery of which she had been the cause. His eye-balls were dry and seared, while an iron band seemed to gird his forehead, tighter and less endurable every moment, as day wore on; for the lapse of time brought no respite, no cessation, and to this vigorous nature was denied the solace of weaker sufferers, who find refuge in unconsciousness or seek relief in tears.
His pupil had started to meet an early train. When the clergyman came down to his empty breakfast-room he realised what it was to be alone.
The family worship with which it was his custom to begin the day assembled the servants as usual. With a steady voice the master of the modest household offered up his prayers for the future, his thanksgivings for the past. The domestics, who instinctively recognised the presence of some great and discreditable calamity, suspecting, to use their own words, that there was “something up along o' missus !” wondered at his self-command, ascribing it, not to true courage, but to hardness of heart. He would have received more pity had he taken his punishment with less fortitude.
A moment's leisure in such a condition meant simply a moment's additional pain. He dared not as yet confront his misery, nor consider in what manner it would be well to bear himself in this crushing humiliation. He must take refuge for the present in work, and try to be thankful that his duty called upon him daily, and almost hourly, for exertion.
In the course of weeks, months, perhaps years, he thought, though the burden could never be lightened, he would have learned to bear it better, and an end must come at last, bringing with it calm and oblivion in the grave.
Like all men who devote themselves to a particular calling-and his, as the most sacred, could not but be also the most engrossinghe had been accustomed to postpone every other consideration to the requirements of his profession. His first duty was to his parish, and even now, in the wreck of all earthly honour and happiness, the ruin of name and fame and hearth and home, he turned from sheer habit to the necessities of his cure as a colonel attends the parade of his regiment, or the captain of a line-of-battle ship appears on his own quarter-deck at twelve o'clock. It was his one chance of dulling, if ever so little, the pain that ate away his heart.