Nora Rowley had told her lover that there was to be no further communication between them till her father and mother should be in England; but in telling him so, had so frankly confessed her own affection for him and had so sturdily promised to be true to him, that no lover could have been reasonably aggrieved by such an interdiction. Nora was quite conscious of this, and was aware that Hugh Stanbury had received such encouragement as ought at any rate to bring him to the new Rowley establishment, as soon as he should learn where it had fixed itself. But when at the end of ten days he had not shown himself, she began to feel doubts. Could it be that he had changed his mind, that he was unwilling to encounter refusal from her father, or that he had found, on looking into his own affairs more closely, that it would be absurd for him to propose to take a wife to himself while his means were so poor and so precarious? Sir Marmaduke during this time had been so unhappy, so fretful, so indignant, and so much worried, that Nora herself had become almost afraid of him; and, without much reasoning on the matter, had taught herself to believe that Hugh might be actuated by similar fears. She had intended to tell her mother of what had occurred between her and Stanbury the first moment that she and Lady Rowley were together; but then there had fallen upon them that terrible incident of the loss of the child, and the whole family had become at once so wrapped up in the agony of the bereaved mother, and so full of rage against the unreasonable father, that there seemed to Nora to be no possible opportunity for the telling of her own love-story. Emily herself appeared to have forgotten it in the midst of her own misery, and had not mentioned Hugh Stanbury's name since they had been in Manchester Street. We have all felt how on occasions our own hopes and fears, nay, almost our own individuality, become absorbed in and obliterated by the more pressing cares and louder voices of those around us. Nora hardly dared to allude to herself while her sister's grief was still so prominent, and while her father was daily complaining of his own personal annoyances at the Colonial Office. It seemed to her that at such a moment she could not introduce a new matter for dispute, and perhaps a new subject of dismay.
Nevertheless, as the days passed by, and as she saw nothing of Hugh Stanbury, her heart became sore and her spirit vexed. It seemed to her that if she were now deserted by him, all the world would be over for her. The Glascock episode in her life had passed by,—that episode which might have been her history, which might have been a history so prosperous, so magnificent, and probably so happy. As she thought of herself and of circumstances as they had happened to her, of the resolutions which she had made as to her own career when she first came to London, and of the way in which she had thrown all those resolutions away in spite of the wonderful success which had come in her path, she could not refrain from thinking that she had brought herself to shipwreck by her own indecision. It must not be imagined that she regretted what she had done. She knew very well that to have acted otherwise than she did when Mr. Glascock came to her at Nuncombe Putney would have proved her to be heartless, selfish, and unwomanly. Long before that time she had determined that it was her duty to marry a rich man,—and, if possible, a man in high position. Such a one had come to her,—one endowed with all the good things of the world beyond her most sanguine expectation,—and she had rejected him! She knew that she had been right because she had allowed herself to love the other man. She did not repent what she had done, the circumstances being as they were, but she almost regretted that she had been so soft in heart, so susceptible of the weakness of love, so little able to do as she pleased with herself. Of what use to her was it that she loved this man with all her strength of affection when he never came to her, although the time at which he had been told that he might come was now ten days past?
She was sitting one afternoon in the drawing-room listlessly reading, or pretending to read, a novel, when, on a sudden, Hugh Stanbury was announced. The circumstances of the moment were most unfortunate for such a visit. Sir Marmaduke, who had been down at Whitehall in the morning, and from thence had made a journey to St. Diddulph's-in-the-East and back, was exceedingly cross and out of temper. They had told him at his office that they feared he would not suffice to carry through the purpose for which he had been brought home. And his brother-in-law, the parson, had expressed to him an opinion that he was in great part responsible for the misfortune of his daughter, by the encouragement which he had given to such a man as Colonel Osborne. Sir Marmaduke had in consequence quarrelled both with the chief clerk and with Mr. Outhouse, and had come home surly and discontented. Lady Rowley and her eldest daughter were away, closeted at the moment with Lady Milborough, with whom they were endeavouring to arrange some plan by which the boy might at any rate be given back. Poor Emily Trevelyan was humble enough now to Lady Milborough,—was prepared to be humble to any one, and in any circumstances, so that she should not be required to acknowledge that she had entertained Colonel Osborne as her lover. The two younger girls, Sophy and Lucy, were in the room when Stanbury was announced, as was also Sir Marmaduke, who at that very moment was uttering angry growls at the obstinacy and want of reason with which he had been treated by Mr. Outhouse. Now Sir Marmaduke had not so much as heard the name of Hugh Stanbury as yet; and Nora, though her listlessness was all at an end, at once felt how impossible it would be to explain any of the circumstances of her case in such an interview as this. While, however, Hugh's dear steps were heard upon the stairs, her feminine mind at once went to work to ascertain in what best mode, with what most attractive reason for his presence, she might introduce the young man to her father. Had not the girls been then present, she thought that it might have been expedient to leave Hugh to tell his own story to Sir Marmaduke. But she had no opportunity of sending her sisters away; and, unless chance should remove them, this could not be done.
"He is son of the lady we were with at Nuncombe Putney," she whispered to her father as she got up to move across the room to welcome her lover. Now Sir Marmaduke had expressed great disapproval of that retreat to Dartmoor, and had only understood respecting it that it had been arranged between Trevelyan and the family in whose custody his two daughters had been sent away into banishment. He was not therefore specially disposed to welcome Hugh Stanbury in consequence of this mode of introduction.
Hugh, who had asked for Lady Rowley and Mrs. Trevelyan and had learned that they were out before he had mentioned Miss Rowley's name, was almost prepared to take his sweetheart into his arms. In that half-minute he had taught himself to expect that he would meet her alone, and had altogether forgotten Sir Marmaduke. Young men when they call at four o'clock in the day never expect to find papas at home. And of Sophia and Lucy he had either heard nothing or had forgotten what he had heard. He repressed himself however in time, and did not commit either Nora or himself by any very vehement demonstration of affection. But he did hold her hand longer than he should have done, and Sir Marmaduke saw that he did so.
"This is papa," said Nora. "Papa, this is our friend, Mr. Hugh Stanbury." The introduction was made in a manner almost absurdly formal, but poor Nora's difficulties lay heavy upon her. Sir Marmaduke muttered something;—but it was little more than a grunt. "Mamma and Emily are out," continued Nora. "I dare say they will be in soon." Sir Marmaduke looked round sharply at the man. Why was he to be encouraged to stay till Lady Rowley should return? Lady Rowley did not want to see him. It seemed to Sir Marmaduke, in the midst of his troubles, that this was no time to be making new acquaintances. "These are my sisters, Mr. Stanbury," continued Nora. "This is Sophia, and this is Lucy." Sophia and Lucy would have been thoroughly willing to receive their sister's lover with genial kindness if they had been properly instructed, and if the time had been opportune; but, as it was, they had nothing to say. They, also, could only mutter some little sound intended to be more courteous than their father's grunt. Poor Nora!
"I hope you are comfortable here," said Hugh.
"The house is all very well," said Nora, "but we don't like the neighbourhood."
Hugh also felt that conversation was difficult. He had soon come to perceive,—before he had been in the room half a minute,—that the atmosphere was not favourable to his mission. There was to be no embracing or permission for embracing on the present occasion. Had he been left alone with Sir Marmaduke he would probably have told his business plainly, let Sir Marmaduke's manner to him have been what it might; but it was impossible for him to do this with three young ladies in the room with him. Seeing that Nora was embarrassed by her difficulties, and that Nora's father was cross and silent, he endeavoured to talk to the other girls, and asked them concerning their journey and the ship in which they had come. But it was very up-hill work. Lucy and Sophy could talk as glibly as any young ladies home from any colony,—and no higher degree of fluency can be expressed;—but now they were cowed. Their elder sister was shamefully and most undeservedly disgraced, and this man had had something,—they knew not what,—to do with it. "Is Priscilla quite well?" Nora asked at last.
"Quite well. I heard from her yesterday. You know they have left the Clock House."
"I had not heard it."
"Oh yes;—and they are living in a small cottage just outside the village. And what else do you think has happened?"
"Nothing bad, I hope, Mr. Stanbury."
"My sister Dorothy has left her aunt, and is living with them again at Nuncombe."
"Has there been a quarrel, Mr. Stanbury?"
"Well, yes;—after a fashion there has, I suppose. But it is a long story and would not interest Sir Marmaduke. The wonder is that Dorothy should have been able to stay so long with my aunt. I will tell it you all some day." Sir Marmaduke could not understand why a long story about this man's aunt and sister should be told to his daughter. He forgot,—as men always do in such circumstances forget,—that, while he was living in the Mandarins, his daughter, living in England, would of course pick up new interest and become intimate with new histories. But he did not forget that pressure of the hand which he had seen, and he determined that his daughter Nora could not have any worse lover than the friend of his elder daughter's husband.
Stanbury had just determined that he must go, that there was no possibility for him either to say or do anything to promote his cause at the present moment, when the circumstances were all changed by the return home of Lady Rowley and Mrs. Trevelyan. Lady Rowley knew, and had for some days known, much more of Stanbury than had come to the ears of Sir Marmaduke. She understood in the first place that the Stanburys had been very good to her daughter, and she was aware that Hugh Stanbury had thoroughly taken her daughter's part against his old friend Trevelyan. She would therefore have been prepared to receive him kindly had he not on this very morning been the subject of special conversation between her and Emily. But, as it had happened, Mrs. Trevelyan had this very day told Lady Rowley the whole story of Nora's love. The elder sister had not intended to be treacherous to the younger; but in the thorough confidence which mutual grief and close conference had created between the mother and daughter, everything had at last come out, and Lady Rowley had learned the story, not only of Hugh Stanbury's courtship, but of those rich offers which had been made by the heir to the barony of Peterborough.
It must be acknowledged that Lady Rowley was greatly grieved and thoroughly dismayed. It was not only that Mr. Glascock was the eldest son of a peer, but that he was represented by the poor suffering wife of the ill-tempered man to be a man blessed with a disposition sweet as an angel's. "And she would have liked him," Emily had said, "if it had not been for this unfortunate young man." Lady Rowley was not worse than are other mothers, not more ambitious, or more heartless, or more worldly. She was a good mother, loving her children, and thoroughly anxious for their welfare. But she would have liked to be the mother-in-law of Lord Peterborough, and she would have liked, dearly, to see her second daughter removed from the danger of those rocks against which her eldest child had been shipwrecked. And when she asked after Hugh Stanbury, and his means of maintaining a wife, the statement which Mrs. Trevelyan made was not comforting. "He writes for a penny newspaper,—and, I believe, writes very well," Mrs. Trevelyan had said.
"For a penny newspaper! Is that respectable?"
"His aunt, Miss Stanbury, seemed to think not. But I suppose men of education do write for such things now. He says himself that it is very precarious as an employment."
"It must be precarious, Emily. And has he got nothing?"
"Not a penny of his own," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
Then Lady Rowley had thought again of Mr. Glascock, and of the family title, and of Monkhams. And she thought of her present troubles, and of the Mandarins, and the state of Sir Marmaduke's balance at the bankers;—and of the other girls, and of all there was before her to do. Here had been a very Apollo among suitors kneeling at her child's feet, and the foolish girl had sent him away for the sake of a young man who wrote for a penny newspaper! Was it worth the while of any woman to bring up daughters with such results? Lady Rowley, therefore, when she was first introduced to Hugh Stanbury, was not prepared to receive him with open arms.
On this occasion the task of introducing him fell to Mrs. Trevelyan, and was done with much graciousness. Emily knew that Hugh Stanbury was her friend, and would sympathise with her respecting her child. "You have heard what has happened to me?" she said. Stanbury, however, had heard nothing of that kidnapping of the child. Though to the Rowleys it seemed that such a deed of iniquity, done in the middle of London, must have been known to all the world, he had not as yet been told of it;—and now the story was given to him. Mrs. Trevelyan herself told it, with many tears and an agony of fresh grief; but still she told it as to one whom she regarded as a sure friend, and from whom she knew that she would receive sympathy. Sir Marmaduke sat by the while, still gloomy and out of humour. Why was their family sorrow to be laid bare to this stranger?
"It is the cruellest thing I ever heard," said Hugh.
"A dastardly deed," said Lady Rowley.
"But we all feel that for the time he can hardly know what he does," said Nora.
"And where is the child?" Stanbury asked.
"We have not the slightest idea," said Lady Rowley. "I have seen him, and he refuses to tell us. He did say that my daughter should see her boy; but he now accompanies his offer with such conditions that it is impossible to listen to him."
"And where is he?"
"We do not know where he lives. We can reach him only through a certain man—"
"Ah, I know the man," said Stanbury; "one who was a policeman once. His name is Bozzle."
"That is the man," said Sir Marmaduke. "I have seen him."
"And of course he will tell us nothing but what he is told to tell us," continued Lady Rowley. "Can there be anything so horrible as this,—that a wife should be bound to communicate with her own husband respecting her own child through such a man as that?"
"One might possibly find out where he keeps the child," said Hugh.
"If you could manage that, Mr. Stanbury!" said Lady Rowley.
"I hardly see that it would do much good," said Hugh. "Indeed I do not know why he should keep the place a secret. I suppose he has a right to the boy until the mother shall have made good her claim before the court." He promised, however, that he would do his best to ascertain where the child was kept, and where Trevelyan resided, and then,—having been nearly an hour at the house,—he was forced to get up and take his leave. He had said not a word to any one of the business that had brought him there. He had not even whispered an assurance of his affection to Nora. Till the two elder ladies had come in, and the subject of the taking of the boy had been mooted, he had sat there as a perfect stranger. He thought that it was manifest enough that Nora had told her secret to no one. It seemed to him that Mrs. Trevelyan must have forgotten it;—that Nora herself must have forgotten it, if such forgetting could be possible! He got up, however, and took his leave, and was comforted in some slight degree by seeing that there was a tear in Nora's eye.
"Who is he?" demanded Sir Marmaduke, as soon as the door was closed.
"He is a young man who was an intimate friend of Louis's," answered Mrs. Trevelyan; "but he is so no longer, because he sees how infatuated Louis has been."
"And why does he come here?"
"We know him very well," continued Mrs. Trevelyan. "It was he that arranged our journey down to Devonshire. He was very kind about it, and so were his mother and sister. We have every reason to be grateful to Mr. Stanbury." This was all very well, but Nora nevertheless felt that the interview had been anything but successful.
"Has he any profession?" asked Sir Marmaduke.
"He writes for the press," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"What do you mean;—books?"
"No;—for a newspaper."
"For a penny newspaper," said Nora boldly—"for the Daily Record."
"Then I hope he won't come here any more," said Sir Marmaduke. Nora paused a moment, striving to find words for some speech which might be true to her love and yet not unseemly,—but finding no such words ready, she got up from her seat and walked out of the room. "What is the meaning of it all?" asked Sir Marmaduke. There was a silence for a while, and then he repeated his question in another form. "Is there any reason for his coming here,—about Nora?"
"I think he is attached to Nora," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"My dear," said Lady Rowley, "perhaps we had better not speak about it just now."
"I suppose he has not a penny in the world," said Sir Marmaduke.
"He has what he earns," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"If Nora understands her duty she will never let me hear his name again," said Sir Marmaduke. Then there was nothing more said, and as soon as they could escape, both Lady Rowley and Mrs. Trevelyan left the room.
"I should have told you everything," said Nora to her mother that night. "I had no intention to keep anything a secret from you. But we have all been so unhappy about Louey, that we have had no heart to talk of anything else."
"I understand all that, my darling."
"And I had meant that you should tell papa, for I supposed that he would come. And I meant that he should go to papa himself. He intended that himself,—only, to-day,—as things turned out—"
"Just so, dearest;—but it does not seem that he has got any income. It would be very rash,—wouldn't it?"
"People must be rash sometimes. Everybody can't have an income without earning it. I suppose people in professions do marry without having fortunes."
"When they have settled professions, Nora."
"And why is not his a settled profession? I believe he receives quite as much at seven and twenty as Uncle Oliphant does at sixty."
"But your Uncle Oliphant's income is permanent."
"Lawyers don't have permanent incomes, or doctors,—or merchants."
"But those professions are regular and sure. They don't marry, without fortunes, till they have made their incomes sure."
"Mr. Stanbury's income is sure. I don't know why it shouldn't be sure. He goes on writing and writing every day, and it seems to me that of all professions in the world it is the finest. I'd much sooner write for a newspaper than be one of those old musty, fusty lawyers, who'll say anything that they're paid to say."
"My dearest Nora, all that is nonsense. You know as well as I do that you should not marry a man when there is a doubt whether he can keep a house over your head;—that is his position."
"It is good enough for me, mamma."
"And what is his income from writing?"
"It is quite enough for me, mamma. The truth is I have promised, and I cannot go back from it. Dear, dear mamma, you won't quarrel with us, and oppose us, and make papa hard against us. You can do what you like with papa. I know that. Look at poor Emily. Plenty of money has not made her happy."
"If Mr. Glascock had only asked you a week sooner," said Lady Rowley, with a handkerchief to her eyes.
"But you see he didn't, mamma."
"When I think of it I cannot but weep"—and the poor mother burst out into a full flood of tears—"such a man, so good, so gentle, and so truly devoted to you."
"Mamma, what's the good of that now?"
"Going down all the way to Devonshire after you!"
"So did Hugh, mamma."
"A position that any girl in England would have envied you. I cannot but feel it. And Emily says she is sure he would come back if he got the very slightest encouragement."
"That is quite impossible, mamma."
"Why should it be impossible? Emily declares that she never saw a man so much in love in her life;—and she says also that she believes he is abroad now simply because he is broken-hearted about it."
"Mr. Glascock, mamma, was very nice and good and all that; but indeed he is not the man to suffer from a broken heart. And Emily is quite mistaken. I told him the whole truth."
"That there was somebody else that I did love. Then he said that of course that put an end to it all, and he wished me good-bye ever so calmly."
"How could you be so infatuated? Why should you have cut the ground away from your feet in that way?"
"Because I chose that there should be an end to it. Now there has been an end to it; and it is much better, mamma, that we should not think about Mr. Glascock any more. He will never come again to me,—and if he did, I could only say the same thing."
"You mustn't be surprised, Nora, if I'm unhappy; that is all. Of course I must feel it. Such a connection as it would have been for your sisters! Such a home for poor Emily in her trouble! And as for this other man—"
"Mamma, don't speak ill of him."
"If I say anything of him, I must say the truth," said Lady Rowley.
"Don't say anything against him, mamma, because he is to be my husband. Dear, dear mamma, you can't change me by anything you say. Perhaps I have been foolish; but it is settled now. Don't make me wretched by speaking against the man whom I mean to love all my life better than all the world."
"Think of Louis Trevelyan."
"I will think of no one but Hugh Stanbury. I tried not to love him, mamma. I tried to think that it was better to make believe that I loved Mr. Glascock. But he got the better of me, and conquered me, and I will never rebel against him. You may help me, mamma;—but you can't change me."