IT was very surprising to the Squire to find himself at table with no other companion save Nina, the only member of the family left at home. When he had been alone in the house before, this little person had been still in the schoolroom, and her father had not been incommoded by her company ; and to see her rise from her seat, as he passed through, forgetting all about her, and timidly precede him to the dining-room, took him entirely aback. He felt, somehow, that she must disappear with her brothers, and that his dinner would be the easy and solitary “square meal” which it had been many times before, without the least idea on his part that it was dreary to be alone. She was not even at the other end of the table, where he could have ignored her, but, by the considerateness of the butler, who thought Miss Nina would feel lonely, her place had been laid quite near her father’s, so that they might entertain each other mutually. The situation was one for which Mr. Mitford was not prepared. He had nothing to say to his own little girl. Politeness might have suggested a few nothings to answer the uses of conversation with other juvenile members of Nina’s class, but a man has no need to be polite to his own child, and he had not a notion what Nina was capable of talking about, or if there were anything, indeed, that was likely to interest her among the subjects with which he was acquainted. Asking her rather gruffly if she would take soup, if she would like some fish, served the purpose for a little; but when it came to the beef and mutton stage, which was with the Squire, an old-fashioned Englishman, priding himself on an excellent appetite, a prolonged period, the sight of her, saying nothing, eating nothing, sitting with little hands clasped before her, ready with a timid smile whenever he looked at her, became more and more an embarrassment to him. He broke forth at last with a question in which his own ennui found vent, though it appeared to be intended to gauge hers : “ Is n’t it a great bore to you, Nina, to sit at table with me alone ? ”

“ Oh, no, papa,” cried Nina, in a tone of surprise.

“ Not a bore ? Well, you are a better creature than I am, which is very likely at your age. Are n’t you sorry, then, that your brothers are away ? ”

“ Very sorry, papa,” Nina answered ; and then there was a pause again.

“ It’s your turn now to fire away,’ he said, after a moment. “ I’ve asked you two questions, now you can ask me two.”

“ Oh, may I ? ” said Nina, faster than seemed possible, clapping her hands softly with apparent pleasure. “ That is exactly what I should like, for I want above all things to ask you why it was that Roger and Edmund went away so very suddenly. They said nothing of it at dinner, and next day they were off by the early train.”

“ I suppose,” said the Squire, with his mouth full, “ they had got tired of the country.”

“ No, I’m sure it was n’t that; they are both fond of the country. Either they heard some news, or something happened, or perhaps you scolded them. You talked very loud after dinner, and you were angry with me when you dashed in and found me sitting near the door.”

“ That was because I don’t want you to get into that mean sort of womanish way. You looked as if you had been listening at the door.”

“ Oh, no, papa, never ; but I always sit at that end of the room for company. To hear voices is something; it makes you feel as if you were not quite alone, though you may not hear a word they say.”

“ Oh ! ” said Mr. Mitford. He resolved from that moment to put a guard upon his tongue ; for if it is only saying “deuce,” and other words that begin with a d, a man would rather not say these things in a girl’s ear.

“ And when I saw them go away this morning, I thought that perhaps you had been scolding them, papa.”

“ Scolding does not make so much difference at your brothers’ age as at yours,” he said, softening in spite of himself.

“ Does n’t it ? Roger had an angry look, as if he were going against his will, and Edmund was anxious to get him to go. The servants say ” — But here Nina pursed up her mouth suddenly, perceiving Mr. Larkins, the butler, in the background. It was difficult to see the attendants, except the footman in his white stockings, who was visible low down, going round the table ; for the lamp which hung over it was shaded, and left everything beyond in an uncertain aspect. But she saw Larkins like a shadow standing by the great sideboard, and her mouth was closed.

“ What do the servants say ? ”

“ I will tell you afterwards, papa,” the little girl said.

“ Prudent, by Jove, that little thing,” the Squire said to himself, as if this had been a crowning wonder. He did not speak again till the beef had gone, and something of a savory character, replacing the exhausted game, smoked upon his plate, while Nina ate her rice pudding. Then he resumed, quite unconscious that such keen observers as his child and his servant could easily trace the line of connection between his present utterance and what had been last said.

“ Do you ever pass by the West Lodge in your little walks ? ”

“ Oh, the Fords, papa ? Yes, to be sure,” cried Nina. “ Lily is just my age. I have always known her. Oh, isn’t she pretty? We all think so in this house.”

“ Who thinks so ? I don’t understand what you mean by ‘ all,’ ” exclaimed the Squire, with lowering looks.

“ They are a little jealous of her,” said Nina, “ which is not wonderful, for she does not look like them at all. She is quite a lady, Mrs. Simmons says. You may think how lovely she must be when Simmons allows it. They say she has a great many admirers, and that ” — Here Nina gave a little cough of intelligence, and made a slight gesture with her hand towards the flowers on the table. “ Him, you know,” she said, nodding her head.

“ What do you mean ? ” cried the Squire, confounded, Nina’s confidential communication being more than any man’s patience could bear.

Nina drew closer, and put her hand to her mouth. “ The gardener, you know,” she said, “ but I don’t like to mention his name aloud, because of the men.”

“ Oh! ” murmured Mr. Mitford. He had been very careless of his little girl! he had paid no more attention to her, as she grew up, than if she had been one of the hounds. But in that moment he got his reward. “ Do you know,” he said, angrily, “ that you talk like a little village gossip, Nina ? What have you to do with such stories ? If I hear you discoursing again upon the servants and their love affairs, or any other affairs, I shall send you back to the school-room, and you shall not appear here again.”

Poor Nina gave a little frightened cry. She did not know what she had done. The color went out of her cheeks. She sat quaking, thrown back upon herself, her eyes filling with tears that she dared not let fall. “ Oh, papa ! ” she said, faintly. This threat penetrated to her very heart, for no one could know so well what the school-room was as the least of the little victims who had languished there, to be delivered only bymarriage. Nina saw with very clear prevision that it was very unlikely she ever could be emancipated by marriage, seeing that she never met any one, and that nobody ever came to Melcombe who was not, she said to herself, half a hundred. The poor child’s heart sank within her. She had been bolder than usual, encouraged by her father’s attention to her little chatter, and she did not know into what pitfall it was that she had dropped. She sat quite still, sometimes lifting a pair of wistful eyes towards him, while the wearisome dinner concluded. The servants, stealing about in the shade, with their subdued steps silently offering all the fruits of the dessert, which she would have liked very much, but had not the courage to touch, were like ghosts to Nina; and her father’s severe face, in the light of the lamp, shone upon her like that of an awful judge who should presently pronounce sentence upon her. Larkins and his satellites were a kind of protection ; they saved her temporarily, at least, from receiving her sentence, and when she saw them preparing to go away, her heart sank. The Squire did not say a word during the conclusion of the dinner. He did not hurry over it; he took everything as leisurely as usual, showing no burning desire to proceed to the execution of Nina. But in this she could not take any comfort, not seeing in reality how it was.

When the servants had left the room, Mr. Mitford, after a brief interval, spoke, and his voice seemed to fill all the room with echoes. Nina was so paralyzed with fear that she did not perceive its softened tone.

“ You have no business with the affairs of the servants. Keeper and gardener, or whatever they are, you have nothing to do with them. It is not becoming in the young lady of the house to discuss their concerns or intentions ; remember that, Nina.”

“ Yes, papa,” assented the girl, scarcely venturing to breathe.

“ However,” said the Squire, “ now those fellows are gone who have ears for everything, you may tell me what you know about this business. That daughter of Ford’s is going to marry the gardener, is she ? And a very good thing, too; it will keep her out of the way of mischief ; and when is that to be ? ”

“ I don’t know, papa,” said Nina, without raising her eyes.

“You seemed to know all about it a few minutes ago. I did n’t mean to frighten you, child. Speak up, and tell me what you do know.”

Nina began to pluck up a little courage. “ It is only what they say. They all think a great deal of Mr. Witherspoon, the gardener. They say he is quite the gentleman, and so clever. They think he is too good for Lily. Mr. Witherspoon was once after Miss Brown, the steward’s sister. You know, papa, she is Scotch, too.”

“ I know,” said Mr. Mitford, with a nod of his head; “ go on. So little Ford has cut out the red-haired one ? I should n’t have thought by Miss Lily’s looks she would be content with such small game.”

“ Oh, she is not in love with him at all,” cried Nina, forgetting her caution. “It is all her father and mother, just like a story-book. But some take Miss Brown’s side. Old Simmons is all for Lily ; she is always having private talks with Mr. Witherspoon. They say she wants to get her married and out of the way ; for, papa,” said the girl, dropping her voice, and putting out her hand with the instinct of a true gossip for the dramatic climax, “ papa, they say that all the gentlemen are always going to the West Lodge. They all think so much of her, for to be pretty is all the gentlemen think of ; and they say that Roger ” —

“ All the gentlemen! ” cried the Squire, with a sudden quiver of rage which appalled Nina. “ What do you mean by all the gentlemen, you little gossip, you confounded little— How dare you say anything about Roger! How dare you discuss your brother with the servants ! Do you mean to tell me that Roger — that Roger ” —

“ Oh papa,” cried Nina, beginning to weep, “ I don’t talk about Roger. I only hear what they say.”

“ What they say ! The people in the servants’ hall ? By Jove,” said the Squire, “ you ought to go out to service yourself; you seem just of their kind.” He got up in his impatience, and began to pace about the room, as he had done on the previous night. “ I have a nice family,” he went on. “ A son who is after Lily Ford, the keeper’s daughter; and you, you little soubrette, you waiting-maid, you Cinderella ! I believe, by Jove, you have been changed at nurse, and it is Lily Ford who is the lady, and you that should be sent to the servants’ hall.”

Nina sank altogether under this storm. She began to cry and sob. Instead of getting better, as things had promised to do, here was everything worse and worse! The school-room, with which she had been threatened first, was bad enough ; but the servants’ hall! As the Squire went on enumerating his own misfortunes, piling darker and darker shades of reprobation upon the children who were bringing him to shame, fear and dismay overwhelmed the poor little girl. She was at last unable to keep down her misery, and ran and flung herself, half on the ground before him, half clinging to his elbow. “ Oh papa ! send me to Geraldine or Amy, — they will take me in ; send me to aunt Dacres ; send me to school, even, if you are so very, very angry ; but don’t send me to service ; don’t put me in a place like one of the maids. Oh, papa, papa ! I am your own daughter, whatever you may think. I am Nina, — indeed I am, I am ! ” cried the girl in a paroxysm that shook her little frame, and even shook his great bulk. He was moved in spite of himself by the passion of the girl’s panic and the matter-of-fact acceptance of his unmeaning threats, which to Nina, with her childlike apprehension, seemed so horribly real and imminent. He took hold of her shoulder, which was thrown against him, the slight, round, soft form, in its white muslin, all quivering with measureless fear.

“ Get up, child,” he said ; “ sit down, dry your eyes, don’t be a little fool. Of course I know you are Nina. Do you think I can stop to weigh every word, when you drive me out of my senses ? Of course I don’t mean that. But you ought n’t to listen to the servants and their gossip, or put yourself on a level with the maids ; you ought to have been taught better, you ought ” —

“ Oh papa, I know it’s wrong,” cried Nina, rubbing her head against his arm and clasping it with both her hands, “ but I have never had any one to care for me, and I have no one to talk to, and it ’s so lonely.”

He took a little trouble to soothe her, partly moved by her words, and partly by the childlike clinging ; and presently dismissed her up-stairs, bidding her go to bed and take care of herself, an injunction which Nina obeyed by holding a long chatter with her maid, in which she disclosed the fact that papa had given her a dreadful scolding for something she had said about Lily Ford. Mr. Mitford returned to his wine with thoughts that were not at all agreeable. His son publicly reported to be “after” that roadside beauty, his daughter talking like a little waiting-woman, full of the gossip of the servants’ hall, — these were pleasant reflections. He had taken a certain pride in the young men who were his representatives in the world, which stood more or less in the place of paternal love ; and even Nina, of whom he knew little more than the outside, had gratified occasionally, when he thought of her at all, that rudimentary sentiment. They had all done him credit, more or less. But there was not much credit to be got out of a little thing who talked like a village gossip, nor out of probably a degrading marriage on the part of the young man who considered himself his heir. “ My heir, by Jove ! ” the Squire said to himself. The veins stood out on his forehead and on his hand as he clenched it and struck it against the table. He was not a man to bear with the follies of his children, and this was not the first occasion upon which he had reminded Roger that he was entirely at his mercy. Let the boy take but one step towards the accomplishment of that act of madness, and he should see, he should see ! No gamekeeper’s daughter should ever be received at Melcombe, much less placed at the head of that table where he himself had so long sat. A hot flush of fury came over him at the thought. If that was what the fool was thinking of, if that was what had made him turn away from Elizabeth Travers, a fine woman with a fine fortune in her hands, then by Jove — It is not necessary in such circumstance to put a conclusion into words. The threat was well enough expressed in that angry exclamation. A man must submit to many things when he is bound down and cannot help himself. It is a very different matter when he has all the power in own hands.



It was some time after these events, after a period of great quiet, during which Mr. Mitford had been living alone with his daughter, seeing her at every meal, and with a curious compound of compunction and fatigue endeavoring to talk to her, and to encourage her to talk to him, an exercise which bored him infinitely, when he received one day a letter from Stephen, in itself a somewhat unusual event. Stephen had heard, he said, that his brothers were away, though he did not inform his father how he had found it out, and he thought, if the Squire did not disapprove, of taking his leave and coming home in their absence. “ You know, sir,” he wrote, “ though it is no doubt my fault as much as theirs, that we don’t pull together as well as might be desired ; and as it happens that a lot of our fellows are in barracks, — for town is very handy from this place, and they can run up almost every day, — it would be a good moment for getting leave, as I’m not going in for town much this year. Perhaps you would n’t mind my company when there’s nobody else about.” Impossible to be more surprised than was the Squire by this letter. Stephen himself to propose to come home in April, exactly the time when there was nothing doing! Stephen to give up town and its delights and the possibility of running up every day, in order to come home and make himself agreeable to his father, when everybody of his kind turned, like the sunflower to the sun, towards the opening joys of the season ! Mr. Mitford was so much astonished that he instinctively cast about in his mind to make out what motives the young man might have, presumably not so good as those which he put forward ; but he could not discover anything that Stephen could do, nor any reason why he should wish to bury himself in the country in spring, that least attractive of all seasons to the child of fashion, the young man of the period. It was not with much pleasure that the Squire contemplated the offered visit. Stephen interfered with his own habits and ways more than any other of the family; he turned the household in the direction he himself wished more than either of his brothers ever attempted to do; he was less amiable, more self-assertive, than either, and showed much more of that contempt for the judgment of the elder generation which exists so generally, whether displayed or not, among the younger than either Roger or Edmund had ever done. On the whole, Mr. Mitford would rather have been left to his own devices ; he did not yearn for sympathy or companionship. If there was one thing that consoled him, it was, perhaps, the thought of being delivered from that tête-à-tête with Nina, which began to be a very heavy necessity. But whether he liked it or not, he could not refuse to receive his youngest son.

It was almost the end of April when Stephen arrived. He came home in the spring twilight some time after his baggage, having chosen to walk, as the evening was fine. It was not a long distance from the station, but he explained that he had made a little round to see how everything was looking. The explanation was quite unnecessary, for Mr. Mitford was not like an anxious mother who counts the moments in such circumstances. He was quite willing to wait till his son made his appearance in the natural course of events. Stephen was the biggest of the family, a large, strongly built, well-developed young man, with a soldier’s straight back and square shoulders, and he had altogether more color about him than was usual to the Mitfords. His hair was reddish-brown, crisp and curling, every ring and twist of it looking like a demonstration of vigor and life. Edmund was pale, and Roger had no more than the average Englishman’s health and vitality (which is, however, saying a great deal), but Stephen had something exuberant, almost riotous, in his strength and life. He began at once to interfere, to suggest and meddle. He paused even before he took his place at table. “ Nina, you should come up here ; come along, young ’un,” he said. “ It’s your place, now you ‘ve grown up, to take the t’other end.”

“ Let Nina alone,” interposed Mr. Mitford. “ If you don’t like taking your brother’s place, take your own, and let’s begin dinner. ‘ For what we are about to receive ‘ ” — The Squire’s murmur of thanksgiving seemed to lose itself in the fumes of the soup from which Larkins lifted the cover as he sat down.

“ Oh, I don’t mind taking my brother’s place,” cried Stephen, with a laugh, " not a bit! I ’ll cut him out whenever I can, I promise you. There’s no reason why a fellow like that should have all the good things. But now Nina’s out, as I suppose she calls it.”

“ Let Nina alone,” said the Squire again briskly. “ She does n’t understand your chaff, — and neither do I, for that matter. Did you see either of them as you came through town ? ”

“ Roger or Ned ? No, we don’t belong to the same sets. I never see them in town, and I was there only an hour or two. I was impatient, as you see, sir, to get home.”

He said this with a slight laugh, and the Squire replied with a Humph! through his nostrils. Stephen did not even pretend to be serious in this profession of regard for his home. What did the fellow want ? What was his object ? His father could give no answer to this question, which was asked mutely by Nina’s wondering blue eyes. She had not sufficiently advanced in knowledge of life, indeed, to question her brother’s motives, but her look was full of an incredulous surprise.

“ Are you so fond of home, Steve ? ” Nina inquired timidly, in the pause that ensued.

Stephen burst out laughing over his soup. “ Are you, little ’un ? ” he said. “ Tell the truth and shame the — I don’t believe you are, a bit. Yes, I’m devoted to home, but I wish the Squire had a better cook. Do you call this bisque, Larkins ? I call it mud.”

“ I will see the name in the menu, sir,” said the butler, with grave severity.

“ Sure enough. That’s what comes of having a woman. You should give yourself the luxury of a chef, sir. The women are less expensive, but they always make a mess. You appreciate good living, and you can afford it. Hallo, what’s this ? Sole au gratin; why, it’s black! I say, Larkins, you must really tell Mrs. Simmons, with my compliments ” —

“That’s enough, Stephen,” exclaimed Mr. Mitford. “ What’s good enough for me must be good enough for my company, even if that company happens to be my youngest son, fresh from a mess-table.”

“ Ah, that’s bitter,” said Stephen, with a laugh. “ Your youngest son happens to care for what he’s eating. Now my elders don’t know the delicate bisque from the common gravy, or what your cook no doubt calls clear. Clear soup, that’s the word. As for the mess-table, just you come and dine with us one day, Squire, and if you don’t forgive me all my impudence — Larkins, some chablis. Why, man alive ! you don’t serve sherry, I hope, with the fish ? ”

“ I suppose there’s no news, except what’s in the papers,” said Mr. Mitford, to stop these remarks.

“Well, sir, I don’t imagine that you expect to see any real news in the papers,” said Stephen. “ I hear there’s all sorts of things going on, — a pretty to-do in the war office, and the devil to pay among the ordnance. They tell the public there’s no evidence against those big-wigs, don’t you know, which means that the witnesses have been squared, of course. Government don’t dare to stir up that dirty pond.”

“ Will you tell me, sir,” cried Mr. Mitford, “ that British officers, gentlemen, men of honor ” —

“ Oh— oh! ” cried Stephen. “ Softly, sir, softly. The British public ain’t here, unless it’s for Larkins you do it. Officers and gentlemen are just about like other people ; a little percentage is neither here nor there. The country does n’t really mind, and a little more money to spend is good for everybody. Why, that’s political economy, is n’t it ? — or so I’ve heard.”

“ I don’t see how money spent in bribes can be good for anybody,” said the Squire. “ I hope we ’re not going to take a lesson from Russia at this time of day.”

“ The Yankees do it,” said Stephen calmly, “ and they ’re the most go-ahead people on the face of the earth. As for the Russians, we shall probably have to fight them, but I don’t mind them in a general way. They ’re up to a lot of things. In the way of life there’s not much to teach those fellows. I’d like you to meet Salgoroufsky, sir. He ’s the last new tiring in accomplished foreigners : lives better, and plays higher, and — in short, goes the whole ” —

“ I don’t put any faith in Russians,” asserted the Squire. “ Oh, I suppose they ’re fast enough, if that ’s what you like. You know the old proverb, Scratch a Russian and you ’ll come to the Tartar.”

“ Ah ! ” said Stephen. “ Don’t you think we’ve got a little beyond the range of proverbs nowadays? A real Russ was n’t known to our seniors, sir, in the proverb-making age. By the way, I hear Salgoroufsky is coming before the public in a more piquant way. They say he’s one of a half dozen Co— ”

“Stephen ! ” said Mr. Mitford, “ none of that here ; you ’re not at the messtable now.”

“ What’s the matter, sir ? ” asked Stephen, arching his eyebrows with surprise. “Oh, Nina. Good gracious, what does it matter ? I dare say she would n’t understand; and if she did, why, a girl can’t go anywhere nowadays without hearing such things talked about. If you think the women don’t discuss them as much as we do ” —

“ Then I can tell you they sha’n’t be discussed here,” cried Mr. Mitford, who had the traditions of his generation. “ What do you fellows think about the chances of war? That’s more to the purpose, and a subject upon which a soldier may have an opinion.”

“ Oh, if you like shop! ” said Stephen, with an indulgent smile. “ I make a point of avoiding it myself. We ’re always game, you know, and that sort of thing, by jingo, if we do — and so long as it happens at the dull time of the year, when there’s nothing much going on. Modern warfare’s capital for that; a man can arrange his engagements so as to lose next to nothing.”

“ Unless he chances to lose his life by the way! ”

“ Exactly so, sir,” assented Stephen coolly. “ Of course that’s on the cards, but fellows don’t calculate upon it. Our only general’s a good ’un for that. He knows pretty well how long it will take to do a business, — or to come to smash,” he added philosophically. “ The one or the other is sure to happen, don’t you know, within a certain time.”

“And I suppose nowadays,” said the indignant father, “ with all your new enlightened views on the subject, you don’t mind much which it is, so long as you get back in time for your engagements.”

“ Well, sir, it fits in somehow,” returned the young warrior calmly. “ I don’t know whether, in a social point of view, the smash, on the whole, is n’t the best, for you are always the victim of circumstances and all the women are quite sure that if it had depended on you ” —

“ And as for the country, or the cause, or anything of that old-fashioned sort” —

“ Oh, well, sir ! ” said Stephen, shrugging his shoulders, elevating his eyebrows, and putting out his hands.

Nina sat listening to all this with very wide-open eyes, turning from one to the other with a rapt attention which was not wholly accompanied by understanding. Her mind did not travel quick enough to follow all these changes of subject, and she was quite unaware how much of the unknown element of chaff lay within the utterances of her brother. Chaff is not a thing which is easily understood (without careful training) by the very young. She took it all seriously, wondering at Stephen’s wisdom, who by this time felt that he had done enough m the way of enlightening his father, and that a little time might be given to dazzling the sister, whose eyes regarded him with so much admiration. Stephen liked to be admired by ladies ; even, when no one else was about, was capable of appreciating the worship of Nina, and open to the gratification of getting a little fun out of her, as he would himself have said.

“ I say, little ’un ! you should see Gerry in all her grandeur,” he said. “ Statham ’s joined the Four-in-Hand, don’t you know ? and there she is on the top of the coach with all her fast friends ; little Algy Banks in close attendance, of course, and Petersham and Beckerbaum and all that lot. Why does n’t she ask you to stay with her, little Nines ? You should tell her you ’re coming, — don’t stop to be asked. You’d have such fun you can’t think.”

“ Oh, Steve ! ” cried Nina, her blue eyes growing rounder and bigger.

“ Once they have their heads loose, how these girls do go it, to be sure! ” remarked Stephen, with benign admiration. “ Amy ’s to be met with all over the place, wherever there’s anything going on. And to think they were just such little mice as you, a year or two since ; never a word above their breath ! They ’re ungrateful little cats, too,” said this philosopher, indifferent to the change of metaphor; “ they never throw anything in a fellow’s way. Let’s hope they’ll give you a hand, Nina, though they take no notice of a brother, and then you ’ll remember me, my dear, and say to yourself it was Steve who put it first into your head.”

“ Let Nina alone,” said the Squire once more. “ I tell you she does n’t understand your chaff. And I hope this is chaff as well as the rest, Stephen. I hope you don’t mean that Geraldine, a child of mine ” —

“ Oh, for that matter, sir ! ” returned Stephen, with cool contempt; then he added quickly, perhaps thinking better of it, for his father’s eyes were across the pyramid of flowers in the middle of the table, “ Statham’s quite able to look after his wife. He is one of the coolest hands going. If they go too fast, he knows exactly when to pull up. As for that, they are in a very good set, and have lots of fun. I’d let them introduce the little ‘un, sir, if I were in your place. Gerry ought to do something for her family. Great exertions were used, as we all recollect, to get her off,” and Stephen laughed, aware that under the protection of Larkins he was safe for the moment, at least, Mr. Mitford being much too great a personage to compromise himself, so long as the servants were in the room, by any outbreak of temper. And looks do not hurt. He was rather pleased than otherwise, amused and tickled by the barbed darts that flew across the table at him from Mr. Mitford’s eyes.

“ Oh, papa,” cried Nina, “ I wish you would. I am seventeen, and I have never been at a dance, certainly not at a ball, a real ball, all my life. Geraldine and Laura and Amy were asked out on visits, but I think people have forgotten there is a fourth one of us. And I am the last. Oh, papa, let me go.”

“ You had better wait till you are asked,” said the Squire, morosely; and the rest of the dinner went over in comparative silence, broken chiefly by Stephen’s remarks and comments. He thought the soufflé was like lead ; he suggested that his father was using up that cheap claret “ that you thought you had got at such a bargain, sir,” he added cheerfully, and with a laugh.

When Larkins left the room the Squire broke out, almost before he had shut the door; and indeed he need not have waited, for Larkins was perfectly aware of what was about to take place, and as he passed immediately into the drawing-room, to see that the lamps were burning properly, got the advantage of it in a great degree, as Nina had done, when she sat near the door “for company,” on a previous occasion. But Stephen was not discomposed by his father’s temper. Having spent all his time in “ poking up the bear,” according to his own refined description, he would have been disappointed had the excited animal refused to dance. Mr. Mitford delivered his mind in very forcible language, driving Nina off to her retirement in the drawing-room, and following her in a gust of wrath a few minutes afterwards. Stephen’s arrival at Melcombe was generally signalized in this way. Papa, as Stephen now chose to call him, shut himself up in his library, slamming the doors like an enraged waiting-maid, while Nina sat and trembled, and listened not without a certain demure satisfaction in the mischief. She admired her brother for the brilliancy of his appearance in general, and for the effect he had produced, and hoped that he would come in and tell her more of Geraldine’s fast and furious proceedings and the splendor of Amy. All, if she could but go, if she had but an invitation ! She saw herself on the top of the coach, with all the ecstasy of happiness foreseen ; and, as Stephen said, why should she wait to be asked ? Why not say she was coming ? A sister could surely take that liberty. Nina drew forth her little cabinet of ornamental stationery, hesitated, took out a sheet of note paper and put it back again. Could she venture upon it, in spite of what papa had said ! Oh, if Stephen would but come in and advise her!

But Stephen apparently found something more attractive to do. He sat a while at the table his father had left, and smoked a cigarette, which was a thing no one else dared to do, considering the close vicinity of the door which led into the drawing-room, and smiled to himself at something, perhaps at his success in routing the Squire ; and he held up his glass of claret to the light with an admiration of its color, which was in strong contrast to his scoff at his father about the cheap wine. He had the air of enjoying himself very much, as he balanced himself on the hind legs of his chair, and finished his claret and his cigarette. Nina, who had gone to her favorite corner in one of those deep window-recesses, heard him laugh to himself, and smelt his cigar with all the pleasure which attaches to the forbidden. She admired him for smoking and doing what no one else was allowed to do, but she did not venture to steal in and join him, which was what she would have liked. Presently, however, this heavenly odor died away. Stephen got up, still smiling, and went out into the hall, where he put on a light overcoat and lit another cigarette ; then, with that smile of triumph still upon his face, he stepped forth into the soft darkness of the April night.



Into the April night! It was very light, for there was a new moon, which, without giving the effect of white light and profound shadow which moonlight generally gives, produced a sort of mystic twilight, the sky still showing all its soft color, the park lying half seen, with dim trees in groups and soft undulations, all harmonious in the faint and dreamy landscape. The weather was warm, for the season, and all the scents and sensations of the evening were indescribable, so full of balm and movement, everything still tingling with life. The impression of peace and soft conclusion which belongs to the hour was contradicted, yet enhanced, by the deeper sentiment of the sweet spring, with all its renewals. The dew fell like a benediction, and it was answered by the noiseless but almost audible (for is not paradox the very law of this soft, self-contradictory nature ?) rising of the sap in all these trees, and of life refreshed throughout all the old framework of the earth. It scarcely needed Fine-Ear, with his fairy sense, to hear the grass growing. The air was full of it, and of the breath of the primroses, which were almost over, and of the bluebells, which had but newly come. There was a rustle, and a tingle, and a sigh, a something which was at once silence and sound, inarticulate, uncertain as that faint darkness which yet was light. It was an hour of dreams and long, delicate vision, — an hour in which the young man’s fancy, as the poet says, turns lightly to thoughts of love.

Alas ! there are so many ways of that. The young man whose thoughts we are about to trace stepped forth in the splendor of his evening clothes, the broad white bosom of his shirt showing under his open overcoat at a quarter of a mile’s distance; his quick step ringing over the gravel when he crossed it, coming down rapid but restless on every daisy bud and new blade of grass ; his red-brown hair curling all the more crisply for the humidity of the evening air; his whole vigorous, relentless being moving on through those soft influences unaffected, bent upon one aim, moved by one purpose, in which there was nothing akin to the charities of the blowing season, although what was in his mind was love, — after his kind, love, — with no anxieties, humilities, doubts of itself or its own charm, with a smile of conquest half disdainful, and superiority assured ; love triumphant, elated with a sense of power, patronizing, and yet humorous, too, amused by the delusions which it meant to encourage and develop. The smiling lips sometimes widened into a laugh, the elated imagination blew off a little strain in a snatch of song. He was going to conquest, going to success, and he knew his own power.

About the same time there stole out of a low garden gate, opening directly into the park, a figure, very different, more ideal, yet perhaps not quite ideal, either; a slim, lightly moving form in a neutral-tinted dress, which made her like another shadow in the ethereal twilight, scarcely more marked, except by the gliding, noiseless movement, than the bushes among which she threaded her way into the silent glades. Lily Ford had stolen out, as it had long been her romantic habit to do, sometimes on pretense of meeting her father; oftener still, and especially on moonlight nights, for her own pleasure. It was a habit which had seemed in keeping with the poetic creature whom her parents worshiped. She was as safe as in their own garden, and it was like a poem, Mrs. Ford thought, to think of Lily’s moonlight walks, not like the strolls of the village girls with their sweethearts. The mother, with a little pang made up of mingled pride and exultation, saw her go out. It was scarcely warm enough yet

for these rambles. But it was so sweet a night! She wound a shawl about the child’s throat, and begged her not to be long, to come back at once if she felt cold. “ It’s a little bit chilly,” she said. But Lily would hear no objection. A new moon, and the wind in the south, not a bit of east in it. “ And I ’ll be back in half an hour, mother,” she said. Her heart beat as she glided away over the grassy slopes and hollows ; her steps made no sound upon the old mossy turf. She was all athrill with excitement, and expectation, and awakened fancy, lightly turned to thoughts of love. She thought so, at least, as she skimmed along, a noiseless shadow, lifting her face now and then to the tender moon, which was new, and young like herself, and full of soft suggestion. She was going to meet — him. How she knew that he had come and that she was to meet him she never revealed. It was not the first by many times, and there was no reason why she should not have told that by accident, as first happened, she had met Mr. Stephen in the park. She had meant to say so at the time. She held it in reserve to say now, if there should ever come a moment in which it would be expedient to make known the accidental nature of that meeting. Lily’s entire being thrilled with the expectation, with the delightful excitement, with something which, if it were not love, answered all the purposes of love, making her heart beat and the blood dance in her veins. Roger’s visits had never caused her such palpitations, by which she knew that it was not ambition, nor the delight of having a lover so much above her and out of her sphere. It was not that. She stood half in awe of Roger, though there was a pleasure in seeing him come night after night (in the cold weather, and while the other was away) ; but Stephen filled her with a dazzled admiration and delight. She had been bewildered at first by the careless splendor of him in his evening dress. That was one glory of the gentleman lover which was doubly seductive to Lily’s aspiring heart. The gardener, in his respectable Sunday clothes, was “ quite a gentleman ” to the servants’ hall; but even Mr. Witherspoon did not attempt an evening suit; and nothing had ever so flattered the girl’s longing to belong to the patrician class, to get a footing in that paradise above her, as the splendor of Stephen’s fine linen, the whiteness of his tie and his cuffs, the perfection of the costume, which nobody wore who did not dine late and belong to that world for which Lily’s soul sighed, which was, she felt, the only world in which she could be content to live. All this was in her mind to-night, as she stole out to keep her tryst: the lover, with all his ardor and warmth, not respectful like Roger, and the love which drew her to him, which was like wine in her own veins, and the sense of being drawn upward into the heaven she wished for, and the intoxicating consciousness of all that he could give her, of the life in which she should be like him, in which those evening clothes of his should be balanced by her own gleaming white shoulders and the flowers in her hair. Let it not appear that this was mere vulgar vanity of dress with Lily. This was not at all how it moved her. It was the last refinement of the change for which her heart was longing, her transfer from the gamekeeper’s lodge and all its incongruities into what she felt was the only life for her. the real world.

Was it, then, not love on either side?

Stephen was aware that it was something more than ordinary, a sentiment much deeper than the usual easy entanglements, which had brought him down from all the attractions of town to the country at the end of April; and though he laughed a little at Lily’s conviction that it was a grande passion for both herself and him, yet there was no small excitement in the pursuit which he was carrying on at so much trouble to himself.

In her inexperienced soul there was the sweep of a great current of emotion, swiftly, irresistibly, drawing her toward him with an impulse which sometimes seemed altogether beyond her own control. There had been times, indeed, when she had tried to stem it, to stop herself, to ask whether what she was doing was right; and Lily had learned, with an intoxication of mingled pleasure and terror, that her power to do so was small, and that this high tide was carrying her away. With terror, but yet with pleasure too ; for the girl was eager for all the high sensations of life, and wanted to be heroically in love almost as much as she wanted to be a lady ; so that the thought of being unable to stop herself, of being swept away by that great flood of feeling, was delightful and ecstatic, elevating her in her own opinion. As for any moral danger, or the possibility of ever finding herself in the position of the village heroines who abound in fiction, the victims of passion, it never at any time entered into Lily’s imagination that anything of the kind was possible to herself. There are evils which can be, and there are some which cannot. We do not, on the top of a hill, consider how to save ourselves from being carried off by a flood, for instance. That she should ever be a poor creature, betrayed and abandoned, was as impossible a contingency. Indeed, it did not even touch the sphere of Lily’s thoughts.

They were in a little dell, where the trees opened on each side, leaving a long, soft line of light descending from the pale, clear blue of the sky, with the young moon in it, to the scarcely visible undulations of the turf. It was scarcely light so much as lightness, a relief of the evening atmosphere from the shadows of the trees, and the vista slanting upwards towards that pure, far radiance of the heavens. It was a spot in which the tenderest lovers in the world, the gentlest hearts, most full of visionary passion, might have met, and where all things, both visible and concealed, the soft light and softer dark, the silent watch and hush of nature, the guardian groups of the trees, protectors, yet sentinels, enhanced the ideal of that meeting. But perhaps even Lily, discovering before anything else her lover, by that spotless expanse of shirt front which Stephen exposed without hesitation to the night, was scarcely quite on a level with the scene, notwithstanding the thrill in her nerves and the sound of her heart in her ears, which was, according to the last requirements of banal romance, the only sound she heard. She glided along towards him, admiring him, with a sense that he was, if not a god, nor even a king, in the phraseology so largely adopted by love-lorn ladies nowadays, yet in all the entrancing reality of that fact a gentleman, able to confer upon the girl he loved the corresponding position of a lady and all that was desirable in this world. But perhaps we do injustice to Lily. In the enthusiasm of the moment she did not think of what he could bestow, but of himself in that climax of perfection, exquisite in those circumstances and surroundings which nowhere else had she ever touched so closely, — not only a gentleman, but one in full dress, in the attire only vaguely dreamed of by admiring visionaries in villages, in his evening clothes.

It is very probable that Stephen would have been, though not of very delicate sensibilities, extremely mortified and shocked had he been aware of the part which his shirt front, his white tie, and that very tiny diamond stud bore in the fascination which he was conscious of exercising over Lily. Fortunately, no such idea ever entered his mind, any more than the possibility of harm occurred to Lily. The thoughts of the one were so far entirely incomprehensible to the other. But at the moment of their meeting, perhaps, on both sides the reserve fell away, and they were what they seemed for one big heart-beat — lovers ; forgetting everything in a sudden flash of emotion, such as banishes every other feeling.

“ Well, little ’un,” Stephen said. “ So you’ve come at last.”

“ Oh, Stephen ! ” Lily cried.

After a minute, this transport being over, they entered upon details.

“ Have you been waiting long ? I could n’t get away.”

“ Never mind, now you ’re here. You are a darling to come on such short notice. I was awfully afraid you would n’t.”

“ Do you think there are so many things to occupy me that I have n’t always time to think ” —

“ Of what, my little Lily ? Say of me. I know it’s of me.”

“ Oh, Stephen ! ”

“ You are the most enchanting little — Would you like to know exactly how it was ? As soon as I heard Roger was out of the way — You are sure you did n’t cry your little eyes out for Roger ? ”

“ Stephen ! ” with indignation.

“ Well, little ’un. He ain’t half bad — for ” — “ you,” he was about to say, but paused, with a sense that Lily’s meekness was not sufficiently proved. “ As for looks — but looks are not everything ; he has his backers, as I have mine. What side would you be on, Lily” —

“Oh, Stephen !” She rung the changes upon his name in any tone from enthusiasm to indignation.

“ Well ! ” he cried, triumphantly. “ As soon as I heard they were out of the way I got my leave like a shot. The Squire can’t make it out, Lily. A fellow like me, fond of being in the middle of everything, to turn his back on the fun just as the fiddles are tuning up, — he can’t make it out.”

“ Oh. Stephen ! and you are giving that up, and the balls, and all the grand ladies, and everything, for me ! ”

“Well, ain’t you pleased? I should have thought that was just what you would like best, Lil. To know you ’re more attractive than the whole lot, eh ? that I ’d rather come here for this — for a look of you — even when I can’t see you,” he cried, laughing.

“ Oh, Stephen ! it is too much.”

Her cheek touched the polished surface of that shirt front, but for the moment she was not sensible of it, being swept away by the feeling that there was no one like him, no one so noble, so disinterested, so true.

“ Well, it’s a good deal, my pet; it ’s about all a fellow can do, to show — I shall get the good of it all the more another time, when we ’re no longer parted like this, having to meet in the dark ; when we ’re ” —

“ Together!” she said softly, under her breath, with a sense of ecstatic expectation, as if it had been heaven.

He laughed and held her close; he did not echo the word, but what did that pressure mean save a more eloquent repetition ? Together ! Before Lily’s eyes the darkness of the dell lighted up with a light that never was on ballroom or theatre, a vision of entertainments indescribable, happiness ineffable, splendors, raptures, visions of delight. She saw herself walking into marble halls, leaning upon his arm, dancing with him, riding with him, always together, and in the first circles, among the best people in England. Her heart melted in the softening of enthusiasm and gratitude and joy.

“Oh, tell me one thing,” she said.

“ A hundred, my pet, whatever you please.”

“ Are you sure — oh, tell me the truth ! don’t flatter me, for I want to know — are you sure that when you take me among all those grand people you will never be ashamed of your poor Lily ? Think where you are taking me from, a poor little cottage. Won’t you ever feel ashamed ? Oh, Stephen ! I think it would kill me, but I want to know.”

“You little goose!” he said, with various caresses ; “if I were ashamed of you, do you think I ’d ever take you among the grand people, as you say ? ” He laughed, and the echoes seemed to catch his laugh and send it back in a fashion which frightened Lily. “We ’ll settle it in that way,” he cried; “ you may trust me for that.”

“ If you are sure, if you are quite sure.”

“I ‘m sure,” he returned, “ and I ’ll tell you why ; for whether it would put. you out or not, it would put me out horribly, and I never expose myself to an unpleasantness, — don’t you understand that, Lily ? So you needn’t be afraid.”

The form of this protest did not quite satisfy Lily. It was not exactly the reply she expected; but after all, was it not the best pledge she could have ? Did it not show how certain he was that never through her could he be shamed ? But she went on with him a little in silence, daunted, she could scarcely tell why.

“ We’ve something to talk of, of much more importance, Lily. There are to be no silly fancies, mind! We ’ll not often have such a good time as this, with nobody spying. When are you coming to me for good and all ? ”

“ Oh, Stephen ! ”

“ Yes, my pet, I know all that. I’ve thought it over and settled everything. Lily, you are a little goose, though you ’re a very sweet one. I believe you ’re hankering all the time after the white satin and the veil, and church-bells ringing, and village brats scattering flowers.”

What a leap her heart gave at the suggestion ! Ah, that she did, — hankered, as he said, longed, would have given her finger for the possibility, not, to do her justice, of the white satin, but of the orderly, lawful, peaceful rite which everybody should know.

“ No,” she replied, with a falter in her voice, “ not if that — would be against — your interest.”

“ Against my interest! I should, think it would be,” he said, “ and a nice quiet registrar’s office is as good in every way.”

“ Ah, not that; a little old church in the city. Don’t you remember what we agreed ? ”

He looked at her a moment, then broke into a laugh again. " To be sure,” he cried, " a little old church in the city; St. Botolph’s or St. Aldgate’s, or something of that sort, with an old sexton and pew-opener, and everything mouldy and quiet. I know where you have taken that from, you little novel-reader ; they’re all alike in the romances. Well, it shall have its little old church, if it won’t be content without.”

“ Oh, Stephen, you are not to think me fanciful, but unless it was in a church I should never believe it any good.”

“ What, not with a special license, and a ring, and everything orthodox? Do you think,” he said with a laugh, “that I should want to deceive you, Lily ? ”

“ Oh, no ! ” she cried, with a vehemence which seemed to push him from her, so earnest was she. “ Oh, no, no ! ” She was wounded even by the suggestion, which never could have come from her own mind. “ I would as soon think of the sky falling, — sooner, sooner ! ”

He laughed again, but in a less assured and triumphant tone. He added nothing to the strength of her denial; why should he ? She was sure enough to make all other asseveration unnecessary. And then they went on, slowly wandering in the soft darkness of the night, getting under the shadow of the trees as they turned in the direction of the West Lodge, for it was time for Lily to go home. Their figures disappeared amid the groups of trees, where the clear sky-light and the faint radiance of the moon reached them but by moments. Not the keenest-eyed spectator could have followed them through the wood, which they both knew so well, every step of the way, round the boles of the great beeches and the gnarled roots of the oaks. They spoke of all the details of that event, which had been already arranged and agreed upon ; to which Lily had long ago worn out all her objections, and now regarded almost as a matter settled; which had come, by much reasoning over it, to look like an ordinary event. She had ceased to think of the misery of her father and mother, which at first had weighed very heavily upon her; for what was that to be ? — the distress of a morning, the anxiety of a single night, ending in delight and triumph. All these points were disposed of long ago; the sole thing that remained was to carry out this project, — to carry it out so effectively, so speedily, so quietly, that until it was done and over nobody should suspect its possibility. For no one was aware of these silent and darkling meetings. No spy had ever encountered them, no prying eye seen them together. Roger, indeed, was well enough known to be a constant visitor at the cottage, but of Stephen, who was so seldom at Melcombe, and who knew nothing of the country, — Stephen the officer, the one who had always been away, — of him nobody knew anything; nor had he ever seen Lily Ford, so far as the country neighbors were aware, in his life.



Roger and Edmund Mitford had gone away together, much against the will of the elder brother. He had not consented to it even at the moment when, obeying a hundred half-resisted impulses, he had finally, without any intention of doing so, refusing at the very moment when he yielded, gone away, to Edmund’s surprise and his own. So unlikely up to the last had it been that they went off finally by the night train. without any provision for going, making a step which commends itself, somehow, in all cases to the imagination of the miserable, — a sudden rush into the night, an escape from all the known and usual conditions of ordinary existence. Edmund so understood and humored the capricious, fantastic misery of Roger’s mind as to go on without pause or inquiry, not to London only, as everybody thought, but as fast as the railway could carry them across France, till they reached those soft shores of the Mediterranean, where so many people go when life ceases to be practicable, as if there were something healing in the mere contact with those mild breezes and in the sight of that tideless sea. Even the journey, occupying so many long hours, in which he was at once tired out and shut up in a moving prison from which he could not escape, did Roger good, and restored, or seemed to restore, his mental balance. He broke out into wild ridicule of himself when he got to the Riviera. What did he want there, a fellow in such health, who did not know whereabouts his lungs were, or had anything that wanted setting right in his constitution ? He stalked through the rooms at Monte Carlo, observing the play with the scornful calm of a man whom this kind of superficial excitement did not touch, and who could scarcely suppress his contempt for the human beings whose souls were absorbed in the attractions of a color or the number of a card. The greater part of them, no doubt, however conscious of their own folly, would have considered the plight of a young man in his position, disturbed in all the duties and responsibilities of life by the pretty face of a gamekeeper’s daughter, as an idiocy far more unaccountable. Thus we criticise but do not better each other. After a few days, in which he composed himself thus by the observation of other people’s imbecilities, Roger turned back, always humored by his anxious companion, by whose motion it was that they paused in Paris, then brilliant in all the beauty and gayety of spring ; and it was only after Stephen had been for some days at Melcombe that the brothers came back to London. It was by this time the beginning of May. Easter was over, and with it all country claims upon the attention of society. The season had begun its hot career, and there were a thousand things to do for all those who were affected by the influx of the invading class, and by many who were not. Roger had got back, as his brother thought, much of his self-command and healthy balance of faculty. He allowed himself to float, into the usual current, and do what other men did. If he said something bitter now and then about the men, or particularly the women, whom he encountered, or betrayed a scornful consciousness of those little attempts to attract so excellent a parti, to which the intended victims of such attempts are nowadays so very wide awake, these, though very unlike Roger, were not at all unlike the utterances of his kind, and roused no astonishment among those who heard them. A fine and generous mind, bent out of nature by some personal experience, is rarely bitter enough to equal the common sentiments of the vulgar and coarse-minded in society or out of it. The cynical outbursts which grieved Edmund, and jarred upon Roger’s own ear like false notes, were not so false as the common jargon which men were accustomed to listen to and give vent to, without thought of any particular meaning at all. So that the state of mind of which the brothers were so painfully conscious scarcely betrayed itself outside. And they ceased to be each other’s constant companions in the familiar circles of town. Edmund had his own “ set,” which was not that, of his brother. It was at once a humbler and more exclusive world than that into which Roger allowed himself to be drawn, without any special inclination one way or the other, drifting upon the customary tide.

Edmund avoided the ordinary and inevitable, to which Roger resigned himself. He had friends here and there of quite different claims and pretensions. Sometimes he would be at an artist’s gorgeous house in St. John’s Wood, sometimes at the big plain dwelling of a lawyer or savant in Russell Square. He did not at all mind where it was, so long as he found people who were congenial, and whose notions of existence were more or less in keeping with his own. These notions of existence, it is scarcely necessary to say, were not confined to the habits of Belgravia or even Mayfair.

It cannot be denied that Edmund, when thus freed of all responsibility for his brother, and the position which had been little less than that of Roger’s keeper, or his nurse, felt much more at his ease, and began to enjoy himself. He liked the beginning of the season. The stir of renewal in the veins of the great city, a stir which runs through everything, and in which all her various developments have a share, was pleasant to him. He went to all the exhibitions, and to the scientific gatherings, and — what we fear will greatly impair any favorable impression he may have made for himself upon the mind of the reader — even to some which are far from being scientific, those which flourish in the neighborhood of Exeter Hall. He did this without a blush, and realized with a smile how wonderfully alike they all were, both in their good qualities and in their bad. In all there was a certain ground of honest enthusiasm, and in all a superstructure of humbug and makebelieve, and not one of the actors in these scenes was aware where the reality ended and the sham began. In some of these places he encountered Mr. Gavelkind, the lawyer who had charge of the affairs of the Travers family, whom Edmund had met at Mount Travers in the late proprietor’s lifetime. Mr. Gavelkind was something of an amateur in life, like Edmund himself, notwithstanding that he was a sober married man, with a family. He was so sober, so respectable, so out of place in some of the haunts where the young man found him, that the lawyer felt it necessary to explain. “ You will wonder to see me so much about,” he said. “You will think I ought to be at my own fireside, a man of my age.”

“ I was not thinking specially of firesides,” returned Edmund; and indeed there was but little occasion, for a lecture was then going on at the Royal Institution which was of a nature altogether to discountenance such old-fashioned ideas. There was a large audience, and the occasion was supposed to be highly interesting. But Edmund and Mr. Gavelkind were both among that restless and disturbing element, the men who hanglike a sort of moving, rustling fringe round the outskirts of every such assemblage, — men who could evidently have found comfortable seats, and listened at their ease to all the lecturer’s demonstrations, had they chosen, but who preferred to stand, or swing on one foot, looking on, with their heads close together, and making remarks, which were not always in the subdued tone which recognizes the sanctity of teaching, whatever the character of that teaching may be.

“ Yes,” said the lawyer, “ I ought to be at home ; but my family are all grown up and settled, Mr. Mitford. My youngest girl was married a year ago, and the consequence is that their mother is after one or the other of them forever, and nobody takes any trouble about me. There is always a baby come, or coming, or something. It’s all very well for half a dozen other houses, but it does n’t add to the charm of mine. We don’t think it worth while to change our house, my wife and I, but it’s a great deal too large for us, that’s the truth, and a little bit dreary, — just a little bit. Mrs. Gavelkind has always one of her brood to look after, and I come here, or there,” he added, with a gesture of his thumb over his shoulder; where that was, whether Exeter Hall, or the theatres in the Strand, or the House of Commons, or Mr. Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, it would have been difficult to tell, for Mr. Gavelkind frequented them all.

“It’s not particularly lively here,” Edmund remarked.

“You mean the lecturer? Well, I imagine I know all his arguments by heart. But then, why should he take trouble about me ? I don’t want to be convinced. I don’t care much for what he believes, one way or another. It’s that lot he ’s thinking of, and quite right, too. It is not you or I, Mr. Mitford, who will ever do him any credit.”

“ Softly,” said Edmund. “ I may be an enthusiastic student seeking enlightenment on this particular point, for anything you know.”

“ Oh ! ” said the other, with some curiosity and surprise. He paused a little, and then resumed : “ Are you really interested in this evolution business, now ? Well, we ’re a strange lot; that’s what I always say. I see strange things in my way of business every day. Bless us all. what’s a thumb or half a dozen of ’em to what you can see, going about with eyes in your head, every day ? ”

“ Indeed, that is my opinion, too.” assented Edmund, thinking rather sadly of his brother and his arrested life.

“ I knew it. I’ve a little experience with my fellow-creatures, and I generally know from a man’s looks. We are a droll lot, Mr. Mitford. Last time I met you, it was at that Fifi business. Odd, was n’t it? What you call unconventional those fellows ought to have been, if anybody. Dear me ! they were just as cut and dry as the best of us.” said Mr. Gavelkind, with a sort of admiring pity, shaking his head.

“ That is true, too,” returned Edmund, with a laugh. “ You are a desperate critic, Mr. Gavelkind. From Exeter Hall to this sort of thing, do you never get any satisfaction ? — for we have met now at a number of places.”

“ Not the sort of places people generally mean when they say that,” said the lawyer, with a chuckle. “ I ’ll tell you now, Mr. Mitford, that actor man. — that’s the fellow, of all I’ve seen, that has got the most confidence in himself. It is n’t a course, or anything of that sort, but for going at it helter-skelter, whether he can do or not, and carrying the whole hurly-burly along with him. This man here ’s got no convictions,” the lawyer added. “ It puts him out to look at you and me.”

“ Perhaps it is not very respectful to stand and talk while he is doing his best.”

“ That’s well said, too. Perhaps I don’t think enough of that. If you ’re going my way, Mr. Mitford, I don’t mind breaking off in the middle of the argument. A stroll in the streets is just as instructive as anything else, when you ’ve got a rational being along with you. I know how to get out without disturbing anybody.” When they had emerged into the streets, however, instead of pursuing the course of his reflections, Mr. Gavelkind said, —

“ I’ve been down in your part of the country since I saw you last.”

“ Indeed ? ” said Edmund. He was taken entirely unawares, and it brought a color to his cheek, which was not lost on his companion. “ I suppose with Miss Travers,” he continued. “ I hope that all is well there.”

“Well enough, and very ill, too,” affirmed the lawyer, shaking his head. “ You know the deception she’s got in hand? ”

“ Deception ! ” said Edmund, with surprise.

“ Perhaps you don’t know. By her uncle’s will she has everything, but to save the feelings of that little, useless, uninteresting person ” —

“ I remember,” said Edmund ; “ but surely it ’s a sacred sort of deception.”

“ A sacred falsehood,” said the other, shaking his head ; “ all that does n’t make it easier to manage now. She has wound herself up in coil on coil, and unless the poor old lady dies, which would be the only safe ending, I don’t know how she ’s to come out. It’s better to let things take their course. You can’t play providence with any success that I have ever seen.”

“ But surely, it was most natural, and, indeed, the only thing which Miss Travers, being the woman she is, could have done.”

“ Being the woman she is,” the lawyer repeated, shaking his head. “ She’s a very fine woman, Elizabeth Travers. I don’t mean in the usual sense of the words, though she’s a handsome girl, too. There are not many like her, Mr. Mitford, though I don’t know whether she ’s properly appreciated among all the old fogyisms of a country neighborhood.”

“ I think Miss Travers is valued as she ought to be,” said Edmund, again with a slight embarrassment. “ At least, as near that as common understandinggoes,” he added, after a moment.

“Ah, there you’re right,” cried Mr. Gavelkind ; “ that’s never within a long way of the reality. A country neighborhood — begging your pardon, if you ’re fond of it — is the devil for that. They ’re all so precious set up on their own merits. And the new people, as you call ’em, the new people get no chance.”

“All that has been got over in this case,” Edmund said. “ The old people — had very little in common with ” —

He was going to say “ Elizabeth,” the lawyer felt sure. The puppy! And yet what a natural and, on the whole, pleasant thing to do !

“ Mrs. Travers is not a badly bred woman. She has some sense, in her way. But now they’ve both got wound round and round in the coils of this huge mistake, and the worst is that everybody knows. You might as well have tried,”declared Mr. Gavelkind, “ to smother the scent of that ointment, you know, in the Bible, as to keep a will from beingknown. Who tells it you never can find out, but before the seals are broken it’s always known. That’s one of the things that can’t be hid. And some time or other it will all come out, unless the old lady dies, which would be the best.”

“ It seems a pity to doom the old lady on that account.”

“ Then Miss Travers should marry, sir, as great a fool as herself, who would accept the position and keep it up. And I don’t suppose a saint like that is easily to be met with in this commonplace sort of a world.”

“Should he be a saint?” Edmund asked, with a faint laugh. They were crossing a stream of bright light from an open door, and Mr. Gavelkind, looking sharply up, saw the wave of color which went once more over his face.

“ If you know anybody so disinterested, put the circumstances before him, and tell him that the man that marries Elizabeth Travers will get ” —

“ Excuse me,” said Edmund, putting up his hand quickly, “but don’t you think we ’re going rather far ? I have no right, on my side, to discuss such a question, whatever you may have.”

“ Oh, I’ve right enough,” cried Mr. Gavelkind. “ Good-night, Mr. Edmund Mitford. We are a queer lot in this world. Lord, to think of a man troubling his head about evolution that can see the contradictions of human nature every day ! ”

With this curious bombshell or Parthian arrow, the lawyer gave Edmund’s hand a hasty shake, and before he could draw his breath had turned round and darted away.

The man that marries Elizabeth Travers will get — Edmund went along Piccadilly, when he was thus left, with these words ringing through his mind. They formed into a kind of chorus, and sung themselves to the accompaniment of all the rhythm of life around, as he passed along quickly, silently, absorbed in the thought. It was not a new thought, though it was one which he had never allowed himself to entertain. Nobody could understand like himself the chill resistance of the country neighborhood first, the flutter of discussion after, and all those levities about the heiress which had flown about like thistle-down. The man who marries Elizabeth Travers will get— What should he get, that happy man? Was it so many hundreds of thousands that old Gavelkind had been about to say ? Half the people in the country could have told that with a glib certainty, and had repeated it till an honest heart grew sick. Was that all the husband of Elizabeth Travers would get ? Edmund unconsciously flung his head high, with a half sob of generous feeling in his throat. That was not what the old lawyer had been about to say. Even that old fellow knew better.

The man that marries Elizabeth Travers— The man that— Fortunate man, favored of Heaven ! The tumult of the streets changed around Edmund to a ring of mingled echoes, all chiming round these words. They pressed upon him so. and rang in his ears, that presently. when he reached that corner where all the lights were flashing, and the streams of the great thoroughfares meeting, and the carriage lamps darting past each other like fireflies, he took refuge in the quiet and comparative seclusion of the Park, like a man pursued. But when he got there, and caught sight of the soft May sky over the wide spaces of the Park, and felt upon him the shining of that same moon, only a little older. which shone upon Stephen and his coming at Melcombe, instead of escaping, he found himself caught again by softer echoes, like the sound of marriage-bells. The man who marries Elizabeth Travers — Who, in the name of all happy inspirations, who — was that to be ?

M. O. W. Oliphant.

T. B. Aldrich.