ePub 版

truth. It would serve to put an end to this scene, which was becoming too painful. "I believe I am," she said, scarcely above a whisper.

A sudden paleness overspread his heated face, and he drew his hand across his brow. Heavy drops of emotion had gathered there.

"God forgive you !" he breathed. "As true as that you are a false woman, Margaret Channing, you will live to repent of this."

"I hope that after a while-you will forgive me. I hope when our feelings yes, ours-have softened down, that we shall renew our friendship. Why should we not? It would be valuable to have you for a friend through life."

"Who is it?" he rejoined, with unnatural calmness.

"Captain Hoare. But, oh, Adam !" she added, with a burst of irrepressible feeling that ought to have been kept in, and she laid her hand upon his arm, as in the days of their affection, "do not think I love him! In one sense I am not false to you, for I can never love him, or any one, as I have loved you. The marriage is suitable, and I have fallen into it from worldly motives. It will take me years-it will-even of my marriage life to forget you. Give me your forgiveness now, before we part."

For answer, he cast upon her a long look of withering contempt, shook her hand from his arm as if it had been a loathsome thing, and flung himself out at the door.

She sank down on a chair and gave vent to a passionate burst of tears; loud, heavy cries, as one hears from a child. Now that it was done, she would have given the whole world to recal him, and she thought her heart was breaking. She took no heed of the minutes as they passed; those shrieking sobs only grew more hysterical. When she became calmer she dragged herself up-stairs and shut herself in her room, proceeding to bathe her eyes and obliterate the signs of her emotion. Then she descended to the carriage, which had long waited for her.

With the lighted rooms, the music, and the gay crowd she was soon mixing in, Margaret's spirits returned. "I will strive-I will thrust regret and care from me," she murmured; "the anguish will not be so great if I make a resolute effort against it. How late Captain Hoare is !"

If Margaret had but known what was detaining him!

Captain Hoare dined that day with some young men at their club, and only went home afterwards to dress. His father and mother were sitting alone: the colonel over his wine.

"What's the news?" cried the captain, as he sat down. "No, thank you it is too hot for port. I don't mind a glass of claret."

He had asked the question in a listless sort of manner, as if not very much caring whether he received an answer or not. Consequently he was scarcely prepared for the sharp way in which his mother, arousing herself from her after-dinner drowsiness, took him


"The news is this, sir, that you ought to have inquired further, before despatching your father on a fool's errand. Twice he went."


A fool's errand!" echoed the gallant captain.

"A fruitless one," interposed the colonel. "We were much against the match in every way, Edward, as you know, for the Channings are not people to mate with us, but


"It was derogatory even to think of it," interrupted Lady Sophia. "I strove to impress that upon you, colonel, before you went.'

"My dear-Edward was so bent upon it: and I thought there migh

be mitigating circumstances. If the girl had had twenty or thirty thousand pounds told down with her, one might have swallowed it. However, all's well that ends well. Channing refuses to give her any until his death, so the matter is at an end."

"Why does he refuse?" asked the captain, with a very blank look.

"He told me he should give her none before he died, and that what there would be for her then, the precise amount, he really could not state. And he proceeded to ask me, in a tone of resentment, if I had come there to make a barter for his daughter."

"I hope this will cure you of looking for a wife in a plebeian family, son Edward," observed Lady Sophia. "Your brothers have both married women of title and I am sick and tired of advising you to do the same. It would not have been convenient to them to receive Miss Channing as a sister-in-law. Who are these Channings? Nobody. He was nothing but a country parson: it is only since he got this chapel that even their name has been heard of."

"But Miss Channing will surely have money, sir," remonstrated Captain Hoare, passing over his mother's remarks without comment.

"Whether she will have a thousand pounds, or whether she will have fifty thousand, is nothing to us," was Colonel Hoare's reply. "You cannot marry her upon the uncertainty. I should never give my consent. I tell you-indeed I told you before-that my only inducement was the hope that she might be a large fortune. You must give her up."

"Well if there's no help for it. I don't feel inclined to marry the best girl that ever stepped, unless she can bring grist to the mill."

"There is plenty of time for you to think of marrying," cried Lady Sophia. "I cannot imagine what put such a thing in your head. Pray forget this nonsensical episode of romance, Edward.”

"I suppose I must," said the young officer to himself. "But she was a deuced nice girl, and I took it for granted the old parson would give her lots of tin."

So, little wonder Captain Hoare was late. When he entered, the evening was drawing to a close. Miss Channing was waltzing, in exuberant spirits so far as anything appeared to the contrary. He came up to her when she was free. She was standing in the recess of the bowwindow, which opened upon a small terrace filled with exotics-a London apology for a garden. At the moment no one was there but herself, so they were comparatively alone. Captain Hoare took her hand in silence. "I thought you told me you should be here early?" she exclaimed. "I did mean to be. But as things have turned out-I doubted whether I ought to appear at all, and lost time deliberating. Then an irresistible impulse seized me to come and bid you a last farewell. And why not? Nobody here knows what has passed, or will be the wiser."


Had he spoken in Hebrew, his words could not have been much more unintelligible to Miss Channing.

"Bid me farewell!" she repeated. "I do not understand. Is your regiment ordered abroad?"

Neither did Captain Hoare understand, just then. "Perhaps you have not seen Dr. Channing?" he exclaimed, after a pause, as a sudden idea occurred to him.

"I have not seen papa since the middle of the day."

"You are not ignorant, dear Miss Channing, that I had set my heart

[ocr errors]

and mind upon you," he rejoined, gently retaining her hand, and lowering his voice to a whisper. "I do not think you could have mistaken my sentiments, although they were only implied."

Her blushing cheek and downcast eye told that she had not.

"And now to have these delightful hopes knocked on the head by two crabbed old fathers is almost more than mortal ought to stand. I can only hope you will not feel it as I do."

A cold shiver of dismay ran through the heart of Margaret Channing. "I am not quite sure what it is you mean," she faltered.

"What a blessing if there were no such thing as money in the world! My father called on Dr. Channing this afternoon to open negotiations, and the two must get differing about the base-metal part of the transaction. So he came home, laid his embargo on me, and ordered me to consign you to the regions of forgetfulness. You will, no doubt, receive the same command, as to me, from Dr. Channing. The unnaturally hard stuff that fathers are made of!"

She could not entirely prevent the expression of her wounded feelings struggling to her face. Captain Hoare saw its paleness, and spoke with more feeling than he had hitherto displayed.

"Dear Miss Channing, I am deeply sorry for this termination to our valued friendship. I should have been proud and happy to call you my wife, and that I may not do so is, believe me, no fault of mine. We may not act against circumstances, but I shall regret this day to the last hour of my life. And now I will say farewell: it is painful to me to linger here, as it must be painful to you."

He wrung her hand, and quitted the rooms; and Margaret Channing's spirit sank within her. Confused visions of the true heart she had thrown away for nothing rose before her in bitter mockery. One came up and claimed her for the dance: she did not know what she answered, save that it was an abrupt refusal. She sank down in a sort of apathy, and presently she discerned her father making his way towards her.

"I suppose you are not ready to go home, Margaret ?"

"Oh yes I am, papa. My head aches with the heat, as it did yesterday in church. I shall be glad to go."

"Then say good night to Mrs. Goldingham, and come." "Thankfully," she muttered to herself. Anything to be alone." Until they were nearly at home Dr. Channing was silent, leaning back in his corner of the carriage. It was in sight when he raised himself to speak.


"A pretty sort of a high and mighty fellow that Colonel Hoare is! Do you know what he wanted?"

"No," was Margaret's answer.

"Wanted me to undertake to give you twenty thousand pounds down on your wedding-day, condescendingly intimating that it might be settled upon you. I told him I should not do it: that what would come to you would come at my death, and not before."

"And then?" repeated Margaret, in a low, apathetical sort of voice— "what did he say then?"

"Then he stiffly rose, said the proposal he had hoped to make on behalf of his son must remain unmade, and so marched out. They are a proud, stuck-up set, Margaret: we are better off without them."

"Yes. Perhaps we are."

"You do not regret it, child?" he added, a shade of anxiety visible in his voice.

"Papa, I do not regret Captain Hoare. I do not really care for him."


Ir was a foggy day in November, sixteen or seventeen months subsequent to the above events. The dusk of evening was drawing on, and Margaret Channing sat in front of a large fire, her eyes fixed dreamily on the red coals. What did she see in them? Was she tracing out the fatal mistake she had made? She had been a sadder and a wiser girl since then.

Never but once since had she seen Adam Grainger; and that was at the house of a mutual friend. He had addressed her in a more freezingly polite tone than he would have used to greet a stranger, and in a few minutes quitted the house, although he had gone there with the intention of spending the evening. It is probable he was aware that money matters had been the stumbling-block to her proposed union with Captain Hoare, since the facts had become known at the time. Margaret despised herself thoroughly for the despicable part she had played. She was endowed with sound sense and good feeling, and she now believed that a species of mania must have come over her. But she had reaped her punishment: for her heart's sunshine had gone out with Adam Grainger.

A circumstance had this day caused her mind to revert more particularly to the past the announcement in the public papers of the marriage of Captain Hoare. He had wedded a high-born lady, one of his own order. Strange to say, Miss Channing had not received an offer of marriage since that prodigal day which had brought her two; strange, because she was a handsome and popular girl, occupying a good position, and looked upon as a fortune. The neglect caused her no regret; and it is a question whether she would have said "Yes," had such been offered her. Thought and experience had come to Margaret Channing, and she knew, now, that something besides wealth and grandeur was necessary to constitute the happiness of married life. She had learnt, also, to be less fond of gaiety than formerly; she had become awake to the startling truth that life cannot be made up of pleasure and indulged self-will; that it has earnest duties which call imperatively for fulfilment. So Margaret sat over the fire this evening in her usual reflective, but not thankless or repining mood; if the last year or two could come over again, how differently would she act! She was interrupted by the entrance of her father. He drew an easy-chair close to the fire and sat down, shivering. Margaret, I wish would write a note for me. you I cannot go out this evening, as I promised. Write and say so. I don't feel well; and it is so cold to-day!"


"Dear papa!" exclaimed Margaret, in surprise. "It is quite warm: a muggy, close day. I was thinking how uncomfortable this great fire made the room."

"I tell you, child, it is cold, wretchedly cold. Or else I have caught cold and feel it so. What have you rung for ?"

"For lights, papa. I cannot see to write."

"Don't have them yet: I cannot bear them: my head and eyes are aching. There's no hurry about the note for this hour to come."

Margaret sat down again. Dr. Channing was leaning back in the chair, his hands in a listless attitude, and his eyes closed. She gently touched one of the hands. It was burning with fever.

"Papa! I fear indeed you have taken cold. Let me send for Mr. Williams."

"Now there you go, Margaret, jumping to extremes," was the peevish rejoinder. "What do I want with a doctor? If I take some gruel and go to bed early, I shall be all right in the morning."

Dr. Channing was not "all right" in the morning. He was worse, and unable to rise. His daughter, without asking this time, sent for Mr. Williams. Before two days had elapsed Mr. Williams brought a physician and the physician brought another. Dr. Channing was in imminent danger.


Margaret scarcely left his bedside. Though she would not allow herself to fear. Hope was strong within her. It proved to be a delusive hope. In little more than a week, Dr. Channing was dead. And had died without a last farewell, for since the third day of his illness he had not recognised even Margaret.

Margaret had borne up bravely, but now she was utterly cast down, more so than many of a weaker mind have been. It was so sudden! A fortnight, nay, ten days ago, he was full of health and life, and now stretched there! Her senses could scarcely grasp the appalling fact that it was a reality.

She had no near relatives to turn to for comfort in her sorrow. Plenty of acquaintance; plenty of carriages driving to the door and ceremonious cards and condolences; but thes are no solace to the stricken heart. In one respect it was well for Margaret that she was alone. Had there been any one to act for her, she would have lain down unresistingly to give way to her grief: as it was, she was compelled to be up and doing. There were so many things to be thought of, so many orders to give.

The funeral must be settled, and Margaret must see the undertaker. She was inexperienced in these matters, but thought, in her honour and affection for the dead, that she could not give orders for a too sumptuous procession. It is a very common mistake. The same day she had arranged this, but later, a card was brought up to Margaret. She recognised it as being that of her father's solicitor, to whom it had not occurred to her, in her trouble, to write. But he had heard of the death, and came unsought for. He was nearly a stranger to Margaret: she remembered meeting him once or twice at Mrs. Grainger's, two years before.

He inquired what use he could be of, and they proceeded to speak about the funeral. Margaret was mentioning the directions she had given, when he interrupted her, speaking impulsively.

"My dear Miss Channing, have you considered the enormous expense of such a funeral?"

Margaret looked at him; almost scornfully; and her voice, in its emphasis, savoured of indignation. "No, sir. I have not taken expense into my consideration.”

"But-pardon me-are you sure that you are justified in thus incurring such an outlay of money?"


Her spirits were broken with sorrow, and she burst into tears. did not think there was any one cruel enough to suggest that mercenary

« 上一頁繼續 »