Aurora Floyd, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 12

Steeve Hargraves, “The Softy.”

Early in October Aurora Floyd returned to Felden Woods, once more “engaged.” The county families opened their eyes when the report reached them that the banker’s daughter was going to be married, not to Talbot Bulstrode, but to Mr. John Mellish, of Mellish Park, near Doncaster. The unmarried ladies — rather hanging on hand about Beckenham and West Wickham — did not approve of all this chopping and changing. They recognized the taint of the Prodder blood in this fickleness. The spangles and the sawdust were breaking out, and Aurora was, as they had always said, her mother’s own daughter. She was a very lucky young woman, they remarked, in being able, after jilting one rich man, to pick up another; but, of course, a young person whose father could give her fifty thousand pounds on her wedding-day might be permitted to play fast and loose with the male sex, while worthier Marianas moped in their moated granges till gray hairs showed themselves in glistening bandeaux, and cruel crow’s -feet gathered about the corners of bright eyes. It is well to be merry and wise, and honest and true, and to be off with the old love, etc., but it is better to be Miss Floyd, of the senior branch of Floyd, Floyd, and Floyd, for then you need be none of these things. At least to such effect was the talk about Beckenham when Archibald brought his daughter back to Felden Woods, and a crowd of dress-makers and milliners set to work at the marriage garments as busily as if Miss Floyd had never had any clothes in her life before.

Mrs. Alexander and Lucy came back to Felden to assist in the preparations for the wedding. Lucy had improved very much in appearance since the preceding winter; there was a happier light in her soft blue eyes, and a healthier hue in her cheeks; but she blushed crimson when she first met Aurora, and hung back a little from Miss Floyd’s caresses.

The wedding was to take place at the end of November. The bride and bridegroom were to spend the winter in Paris, where Archibald Floyd was to join them, and return to England “in time for the Craven Meeting,” as John Mellish said; for I am sorry to say that, having been so happily successful in his love-affair, this young man’s thoughts returned into their accustomed channels; and the creature he held dearest on earth, next to Miss Floyd and those belonging to her, was a bay filly called Aurora, and entered for the Oaks and Leger of a future year.

Ought I to apologize for my heroine because she has forgotten Talbot Bulstrode, and that she entertains a grateful affection for this adoring John Mellish? She ought, no doubt, to have died of shame and sorrow after Talbot’s cruel desertion: and Heaven knows that only her youth and vitality carried her through a very severe battle with the grim rider of the pale horse; but, having once passed through that dread encounter, she was, however feeble, in a fair way to recover. These passionate griefs, to kill at all, must kill suddenly. The lovers who die for love in our tragedies die in such a vast hurry that there is generally some mistake or misapprehension about the business, and the tragedy might have been a comedy if the hero or heroine had only waited for a quarter of an hour. If Othello had but lingered a little before smothering his wife, Mistress Emilia might have come in and sworn and protested; and Cassio, with the handkerchief about his leg, might have been in time to set the mind of the valiant Moor at rest, and put the Venetian dog to confusion. How happily Mr. and Mrs. Romeo Montague might have lived and died, thanks to the dear, good friar, if the foolish bridegroom had not been in such a hurry to swallow the vile stuff from the apothecary’s; and, as people are, I hope and believe, a little wiser in real life than they appear to be upon the stage, the worms very rarely get an honest meal off men and women who have died for love. So Aurora walked through the rooms at Felden in which Talbot Bulstrode had so often walked by her side; and, if there was any regret at her heart, it was a quiet sorrow, such as we feel for the dead — a sorrow not unmingled with pity, for she thought that the proud son of Sir John Raleigh Bulstrode might have been a happier man if he had been as generous and trusting as John Mellish. Perhaps the healthiest sign of the state of her health was, that she could speak of Talbot freely, cheerfully, and without a blush. She asked Lucy if she had met Captain Bulstrode that year; and the little hypocrite told her cousin Yes; that he had spoken to them one day in the Park, and that she believed he had gone into Parliament. She believed! Why, she knew his maiden speech by heart, though it was on some hopelessly uninteresting bill in which the Cornish mines were in some vague manner involved with the national survey, and she could have repeated it as correctly as her youngest brother could declaim to his “Romans, countrymen, and lovers.” Aurora might forget him, and basely marry a fair-haired Yorkshireman; but for Lucy Floyd, earth only held this dark knight, with the severe gray eyes and the stiff leg. Poor Lucy, therefore, loved, and was grateful to her brilliant cousin for that fickleness which had brought about such a change in the programme of the gay wedding at Felden Woods. The fair young confidante and bridesmaid could assist in the ceremonial now with a good grace. She no longer walked about like a “corpse alive,” but took a hearty womanly interest in the whole affair, and was very much concerned in a discussion as to the merits of pink versus blue for the bonnets of the bridesmaids.

The boisterous happiness of John Mellish seemed contagious, and made a genial atmosphere about the great mansion at Felden. Stalwart Andrew Floyd was delighted with his young cousin’s choice. No more refusals to join him in the hunting-field, but half the county breakfasting at Felden, and the long terrace and garden luminous with “pink.”

Not a ripple disturbed the smooth current of that brief courtship. The Yorkshireman contrived to make himself agreeable to everybody belonging to his dark-eyed divinity. He flattered their weaknesses, he gratified their caprices, he studied their wishes, and paid them all such insidious court, that I’m afraid invidious comparisons were drawn between John and Talbot, to the disadvantage of the proud young officer.

It was impossible for any quarrel to arise between the lovers, for John followed his mistress about like some big slave, who only lived to do her bidding; and Aurora accepted his devotion with a sultana-like grace, which became her amazingly. Once more she visited the stables and inspected her father’s stud, for the first time since she had left Felden for the Parisian finishing school. Once more she rode across country, wearing a hat which provoked considerable criticism — a hat which was no other than the now universal turban, or pork-pie, but which was new to the world in the autumn of fifty-eight. Her earlier girlhood appeared to return to her once more. It seemed almost as if the two years and a half in which she had left and returned to her home, and had met and parted with Talbot Bulstrode, had been blotted from her life, leaving her spirits fresh and bright as they were before that stormy interview in her father’s study in the June of fifty-six.

The county families came to the wedding at Beckenham church, and were fain to confess that Miss Floyd looked wondrously handsome in her virginal crown of orange-buds and flowers, and her voluminous Mechlin veil; she had pleaded hard to be married in a bonnet, but had been overruled by a posse of female cousins. Mr. Richard Gunter provided the marriage feast, and sent a man down to Felden to superintend the arrangements, who was more dashing and splendid to look upon than any of the Kentish guests. John Mellish alternately laughed and cried throughout that eventful morning. Heaven knows how many times he shook hands with Archibald Floyd, carrying the banker off into solitary corners, and swearing, with the tears running down his broad cheeks, to be a good husband to the old man’s daughter, so that it must have been a relief to the white-haired old Scotchman when Aurora descended the staircase, rustling in violet moiré antique, and surrounded by her bridesmaids, to take leave of this dear father before the prancing steeds carried Mr. and Mrs. Mellish to that most prosaic of hymeneal stages, the London Bridge station.

Mrs. Mellish! Yes, she was Mrs. Mellish now. Talbot Bulstrode read of her marriage in that very column of the newspaper in which he had thought, perhaps, to see her death. How flatly the romance ended! With what a dull cadence the storm died out, and what a commonplace, gray, every-day sky succeeded the terrors of the lightning! Less than a year since, the globe had seemed to him to collapse, and creation to come to a stand-still because of his trouble; and he was now in Parliament legislating for the Cornish miners, and getting stout, his ill-natured friends said; and she — she who ought, in accordance with all dramatic propriety, to have died out of hand long before this, she had married a Yorkshire land-owner, and would, no doubt, take her place in the county, and play My Lady Bountiful in the village, and be chief patroness at the race-balls, and live happily ever afterward. He crumpled the Times newspaper, and flung it from him in his rage and mortification. “And I once thought that she loved me,” he cried.

And she did love you, Talbot Bulstrode — loved you as she can never love this honest, generous, devoted John Mellish, though she may by and by bestow upon him an affection which is a great deal better worth having. She loved you with the girl’s romantic fancy and reverent admiration, and tried humbly to fashion her very nature anew, that she might be worthy of your sublime excellence. She loved you as women only love in their first youth, and as they rarely love the men they ultimately marry. The tree is perhaps all the stronger when these first frail branches are lopped away to give place to strong and spreading arms, beneath which a husband and children may shelter.

But Talbot could not see all this. He saw nothing but that brief announcement in the Times: “Aurora, only daughter of Archibald Floyd, Banker, of Felden Woods, Kent, to John Mellish, Esq., of Mellish Park, near Doncaster.” He was angry with his sometime love, and more angry with himself for feeling that anger; and he plunged furiously into blue-books, to prepare himself for the coming session; and again he took his gun and went out upon the “barren, barren moorland,” as he had done in the first violence of his grief, and wandered down to the dreary sea-shore, where he raved about his “Amy, shallow-hearted,” and tried the pitch of his voice against the ides of February should come round, and the bill for the Cornish miners be laid before the speaker.

Toward the close of January, the servants at Mellish Park prepared for the advent of Master John and his bride. It was a work of love in that disorderly household, for it pleased them that master would have some one to keep him at home, and that the county would be entertained, and festivals held in the roomy, rambling mansion. Architects, upholsterers, and decorators had been busy through the short winter days preparing a suite of apartments for Mrs. Mellish; and the western, or, as it was called, the Gothic wing of the house, had been restored and remodelled for Aurora, until the oak-roofed chambers blazed with rose-color and gold, like a mediæval chapel. If John could have expended half his fortune in the purchase of a roc’s egg to hang in these apartments, he would have gladly done so. He was so proud of his Cleopatra-like bride, his jewel beyond all parallel amid all gems, that he fancied he could not build a shrine rich enough for his treasure. So the house is which honest country squires and their sensible motherly wives had lived contentedly for nearly three centuries was almost pulled to pieces before John thought it worthy of the banker’s daughter. The trainers, and grooms, and stable-boys shrugged their shoulders superciliously, and spat fragments of straw disdainfully upon the paved stable-yard, as they heard the clatter of the tools of the stone-masons and glaziers busy about the façade of the restored apartments. The stable would be naught now, they supposed, and Muster Mellish would be always tied to his wife’s apron-string. It was a relief to them to hear that Mrs. Mellish was fond of riding and hunting, and would, no doubt, take to horse-racing in due time, as the legitimate taste of a lady of position and fortune.

The bells of the village church rang loudly and joyously in the clear winter air as the carriage and four, which had met John and his bride at Doncaster, dashed into the gates of Mellish Park, and up the long avenue to the semi-Gothic, semi-barbaric portico of the great door. Hearty Yorkshire voices rang out in loud cheers of welcome as Aurora stepped from the carriage, and passed under the shadow of the porch and into the old oak hall, which had been hung with evergreens and adorned with floral devices, among which figured the legend, “WELLCOME TO MELLISH!” and other such friendly inscriptions, more conspicuous for their kindly meaning than their strict orthography. The servants were enraptured with their master’s choice. She was so brightly handsome that the simple-hearted creatures accepted her beauty as we accept the sunlight, and felt a genial warmth in that radiant loveliness which the most classical perfection could never have inspired. Indeed, a Grecian outline might have been thrown away upon the Yorkshire servants, whose uncultivated tastes were a great deal more disposed to recognize splendor of color than purity of form. They could not choose but admire Aurora’s eyes, which they unanimously declared to be “regular shiners;” and the flash of her white teeth glancing between the full crimson lips; and the bright flush which lighted up her pale olive skin; and the purple lustre of her massive coronal of plaited hair. Her beauty was of that luxuriant and splendid order which has always most effect upon the masses, and the fascination of her manner was almost akin to sorcery in its power over simple people. I lose myself when I try to describe the feminine intoxications, the wonderful fascination exercised by this dark-eyed siren. Surely the secret of her power to charm must have been the wonderful vitality of her nature, by virtue of which she carried life and animal spirits about with her as an atmosphere, till dull people grew merry by reason of her contagious presence; or perhaps the true charm of her manner was that childlike and exquisite unconsciousness of self which made her for ever a new creature — for ever impulsive and sympathetic, acutely sensible of all sorrow in others, though of a nature originally joyous in the extreme.

Mrs. Walter Powell had been transferred from Felden Woods to Mellish Park, and was comfortably installed in her prim apartments when the bride and bridegroom arrived. The Yorkshire housekeeper was to abandon the executive power to the ensign’s widow, who was to take all trouble of administration off Aurora’s hands.

“Heaven help your friends if they ever had to eat a dinner of my ordering, John,” Mrs. Mellish said, making a free confession of her ignorance; “I am glad, too, that we have no occasion to turn the poor soul out upon the world once more. Those long columns of advertisements in the Times give me a sick pain at my heart when I think of what a governess must have to encounter. I can not loll back in my carriage and be ‘grateful for my advantages,’ as Mrs. Alexander says, when I remember the sufferings of others. I am rather inclined to be discontented with my lot, and to think it a poor thing after all, to be rich and happy in a world where so many must suffer; so I am glad we can give Mrs. Powell something to do at Mellish Park.”

The ensign’s widow rejoiced very much in that she was to be retained in such comfortable quarters, but she did not thank Aurora for the benefits received from the open hands of the banker’s daughter. She did not thank her, because — she hated her. Why did she hate her? She hated her for the very benefits she received, or rather because she, Aurora, had power to bestow such benefits. She hated her as such slow, sluggish, narrow-minded creatures always hate the frank and generous; hated her as envy will for ever hate prosperity; as Haman hated Mordecai from the height of his throne, and as the man of Haman nature would hate were he supreme in the universe. If Mrs. Walter Powell had been a duchess, and Aurora a crossing-sweeper, she would still have envied her; she would have envied her glorious eyes and flashing teeth, her imperial carriage and generous soul. This pale, whity-brown haired woman felt herself contemptible in the presence of Aurora, and she resented the bounteous vitality of this nature which made her conscious of the sluggishness of her own. She detested Mrs. Mellish for the possession of attributes which she felt were richer gifts than all the wealth of the house of Floyd, Floyd, and Floyd, melted into one mountain of ore. But it is not for a dependent to hate, except in a decorous and gentlewomanly manner — secretly, in the dim recesses of her soul; while she dresses her face with an unvarying smile — a smile which she puts on every morning with her clean collar, and takes off at night when she goes to bed.

Now as, by an all-wise dispensation of Providence, it is not possible for one person so to hate another without that other having a vague consciousness of the deadly sentiment, Aurora felt that Mrs. Powell’s attachment to her was of no very profound a nature. But the reckless girl did not seek to fathom the depth of any inimical feeling which might lurk in her dependent’s breast.

“She is not very fond of me, poor soul,” she said, “and I dare say I torment and annoy her with my careless follies. If I were like that dear, considerate little Lucy, now —” And with a shrug of her shoulders, and an unfinished sentence such as this, Mrs. Mellish dismissed the insignificant subject from her mind.

You can not expect these grand, courageous creatures to be frightened of quiet people. And yet, in the great dramas of life, it is the quiet people who do the mischief. Iago was not a noisy person, though, thank Heaven! it is no longer the fashion to represent him an oily sneak, whom even the most foolish of Moors could not have trusted.

Aurora was at peace. The storms that had so nearly shipwrecked her young life had passed away, leaving her upon a fair and fertile shore. Whatever griefs she had inflicted upon her father’s devoted heart had not been mortal, and the old banker seemed a very happy man when he came, in the bright April weather, to see the young couple at Mellish Park. Among all the hangers-on of that large establishment there was only one person who did not join in the general voice when Mrs. Mellish was spoken of, and that one person was so very insignificant that his fellow-servants scarcely cared to ascertain his opinion. He was a man of about forty, who had been born at Mellish Park, and had pottered about the stables from his boyhood, doing odd jobs for the grooms, and being reckoned, although a little “fond” upon common matters, a very acute judge of horseflesh. This man was called Stephen, or more commonly, Steeve Hargraves. He was a squat, broad-shouldered fellow, with a big head, a pale, haggard face — a face whose ghastly pallor seemed almost unnatural — reddish-brown eyes, and bushy, sandy eyebrows, which formed a species of penthouse over those sinister-looking eyes. He was the sort of man who is generally called repulsive— a man from whom you recoil with a feeling of instinctive dislike, which is, no doubt, both wicked and unjust; for we have no right to take objection to a man because he has an ugly glitter in his eyes, and shaggy tufts of red hair meeting on the bridge of his nose, and big splay feet, which seem made to crush and destroy whatever comes in their way; and this was what Aurora Mellish thought when, a few days after her arrival at the Park, she saw Steeve Hargraves for the first time, coming out of the harness-room with a bridle across his arm. She was angry with herself for the involuntary shudder with which she drew back at the sight of this man, who stood at a little distance polishing the brass ornaments upon a set of harness, and furtively regarding Mrs. Mellish as she leaned on her husband’s arm, talking to the trainer about the foals at grass in the meadows outside the Park.

Aurora asked who the man was.

“Why, his name is Hargraves, ma’am,” answered the trainer; “but we call him Steeve. He’s a little bit touched in the upper story — a little bit ‘fond,’ as we call it here; but he’s useful about the stables when he pleases, for he’s rather a queer temper, and there’s none of us has ever been able to get the upper hand of him, as master knows.”

John Mellish laughed.

“No,” he said; “Steeve has pretty much his own way in the stables, I fancy. He was a favorite groom of my father’s twenty years ago; but he got a fall in the hunting-field, which did him some injury about the head, and he’s never been quite right since. Of course this, with my poor father’s regard for him, gives him a claim upon us, and we put up with his queer ways — don’t we, Langley?”

“Well, we do, sir,” said the trainer; “though, upon my honor, I’m sometimes half afraid of him, and think he’ll get up in the middle of the night and murder some of us.”

“Not till some of you have won a hatful of money, Langley. Steeve’s a little too fond of the brass to murder any of you for nothing. You shall see his face light up presently, Aurora,” said John, beckoning to the stableman. “Come here, Steeve. Mrs. Mellish wishes you to drink her health.”

He dropped a sovereign into the man’s broad, muscular palm — the hand of a gladiator, with horny flesh and sinews of iron. Steeve’s red eyes glistened as his fingers closed upon the money.

“Thank you kindly, my lady,” he said, touching his cap.

He spoke in a low, subdued voice, which contrasted so strangely with the physical power manifest in his appearance that Aurora drew back with a start.

Unhappily for this poor “fond” creature, whose person was in itself repulsive, there was something in this inward, semi-whispering voice which gave rise to an instinctive dislike in those who heard him speak for the first time.

He touched his greasy woollen cap once more, and went slowly back to his work.

“How white his face is!” said Aurora. “Has he been ill?”

“No. He has had that pale face ever since his fall. I was too young when it happened to remember much about it, but I have heard my father say that when they brought the poor creature home his face, which had been florid before, was as white as a sheet of writing-paper, and his voice, until that period strong and gruff, was reduced to the half-whisper in which he now speaks. The doctors did all they could for him, and carried him through an awful attack of brain fever, but they could never bring back his voice, nor the color to his cheeks.”

“Poor fellow!” said Mrs. Mellish, gently; “he is very much to be pitied.”

She was reproaching herself, as she said this, for that feeling of repugnance which she could not overcome. It was a repugnance closely allied to terror; she felt as if she could scarcely be happy at Mellish Park while that man was on the premises. She was half inclined to beg her indulgent husband to pension him off, and send him to the other end of the county; but the next moment she was ashamed of her childish folly, and a few hours afterward had forgotten Steeve Hargraves, the “softy,” as he was politely called in the stables.

Reader, when any creature inspires you with this instinctive, unreasoning abhorrence, avoid that creature. He is dangerous. Take warning, as you take warning by the clouds in the sky and the ominous stillness of the atmosphere when there is a storm coming. Nature can not lie; and it is nature which has planted that shuddering terror in your breast; an instinct of self-preservation rather than of cowardly fear, which, at the first sight of some fellow-creature, tells you more plainly than words can speak, “That man is my enemy!”

Had Aurora suffered herself to be guided by this instinct; had she given way to the impulse which she despised as childish, and caused Stephen Hargraves to be dismissed from Mellish Park, what bitter misery, what cruel anguish, might have been spared to herself and others.

The mastiff Bow-wow had accompanied his mistress to her new home; but Bow-wow’s best days were done. A month before Aurora’s marriage he had been run over by a pony-carriage in one of the roads about Felden, and had been conveyed, bleeding and disabled, to the veterinary surgeon’s, to have one of his hind legs put into splints, and to be carried through his sufferings by the highest available skill in the science of dog-doctoring. Aurora drove every day to Croydon to see her sick favorite; and at the worst Bow-wow was always well enough to recognize his beloved mistress, and roll his listless, feverish tongue over her white hands, in token of that unchanging brute affection which can only perish with life. So the mastiff was quite lame as well as half blind when he arrived at Mellish Park with the rest of Aurora’s goods and chattels. He was a privileged creature in the roomy mansion; a tiger-skin was spread for him upon the hearth in the drawing-room, and he spent his declining days in luxurious repose, basking in the firelight or sunning himself in the windows, as it pleased his royal fancy; but, feeble as he was, always able to limp after Mrs. Mellish when she walked on the lawn or in the woody shrubberies which skirted the gardens.

One day, when she had returned from her morning’s ride with John and her father, who accompanied them sometimes upon a quiet gray cob, and seemed a younger man for the exercise, she lingered on the lawn in her riding-habit after the horses had been taken back to the stables, and Mr. Mellish and his father-in-law had re-entered the house. The mastiff saw her from the drawing-room window, and crawled out to welcome her. Tempted by the exquisite softness of the atmosphere, she strolled, with her riding-habit gathered under her arm and her whip in her hand, looking for primroses under the clumps of trees upon the lawn. She gathered a cluster of wild flowers, and was returning to the house, when she remembered some directions respecting a favorite pony that was ill, which she had omitted to give to her groom.

She crossed the stable-yard, followed by Bow-wow, found the groom, gave him her orders, and went back to the gardens. While talking to the man, she had recognized the white face of Steeve Hargraves at one of the windows of the harness-room. He came out while she was giving her directions, and carried a set of harness across to a coach-house on the opposite side of the quadrangle. Aurora was on the threshold of the gates opening from the stables into the gardens, when she was arrested by a howl of pain from the mastiff Bow-wow. Rapid as lightning in every movement, she turned round in time to see the cause of this cry. Steeve Hargraves had sent the animal reeling away from him with a kick from his iron-bound clog. Cruelty to animals was one of the failings of the “softy.” He was not cruel to the Mellish horses, for he had sense enough to know that his daily bread depended upon his attention to them; but Heaven help any outsider that came in his way. Aurora sprang upon him like a beautiful tigress, and, catching the collar of his fustian jacket in her slight hands, rooted him to the spot upon which he stood. The grasp of those slender hands, convulsed by passion, was not to be easily shaken off; and Steeve Hargraves, taken completely off his guard, stared aghast at his assailant. Taller than the stable-man by a foot and a half, she towered above him, her cheeks white with rage, her eyes flashing fury, her hat fallen off, and her black hair tumbling about her shoulders, sublime in her passion.

The man crouched beneath the grasp of the imperious creature.

“Let me go,” he gasped, in his inward whisper, which had a hissing sound in his agitation; “let me go, or you’ll be sorry; let me go!”

“How dared you!” cried Aurora —“how dared you hurt him? My poor dog! My poor, lame, feeble dog! How dared you do it? You cowardly dastard! you —”

She disengaged her right hand from his collar, and rained a shower of blows upon his clumsy shoulders with her slender whip; a mere toy, with emeralds set in its golden head, but stinging like a rod of flexible steel in that little hand.

“How dared you!” she repeated again and again, her cheeks changing from white to scarlet in the effort to hold the man with one hand. Her tangled hair had fallen to her waist by this time, and the whip was broken in half a dozen places.

John Mellish, entering the stable-yard by chance at this very moment, turned white with horror at beholding the beautiful fury.

“Aurora! Aurora!” he cried, snatching the man’s collar from her grasp, and hurling him half a dozen paces off. “Aurora, what is it?”

She told him, in broken gasps, the cause of her indignation. He took the splintered whip from her hand, picked up her hat which she had trodden upon in her rage, and led her across the yard toward the back entrance to the house. It was such bitter shame to him to think that this peerless, this adored creature should do anything to bring disgrace or even ridicule upon herself. He would have stripped off his coat and fought with half a dozen coal-heavers, and thought nothing of it; but that she —

“Go in, go in, my darling girl,” he said, with sorrowful tenderness; “the servants are peeping and prying about, I dare say. You should not have done this; you should have told me.”

“I should have told you!” she cried, impatiently. “How could I stop to tell you when I saw him strike my dog — my poor, lame dog?”

“Go in, darling, go in! There, there, calm yourself, and go in.”

He spoke as if he had been trying to soothe an agitated child, for he saw by the convulsive heaving of her breast that the violent emotion would terminate in hysteria, as all womanly fury must, sooner or later. He half led, half carried her up a back staircase to her own room, and left her lying on a sofa in her riding-habit. He thrust the broken whip into his pocket, and then, setting his strong white teeth and clenching his fist, went to look for Stephen Hargraves. As he crossed the hall in his way out, he selected a stout leather-thonged hunting-whip from a stand of formidable implements. Steeve, the softy, was sitting on a horse-block when John re-entered the stable-yard. He was rubbing his shoulders with a very doleful face, while a couple of grinning stable-boys, who had perhaps witnessed his chastisement, watched him from a respectful distance. They had no inclination to go too near him just then, for the softy had a playful habit of brandishing a big clasp-knife when he felt himself aggrieved, and the bravest lad in the stables had no wish to die from a stab in the abdomen, with the pleasant conviction that his murderer’s heaviest punishment might be a fortnight’s imprisonment or an easy fine.

“Now, Mr. Hargraves,” said John Mellish, lifting the softy off the horse-block and planting him at a convenient distance for giving full play to the hunting-whip, “it was n’t Mrs. Mellish’s business to horsewhip you, but it was her duty to let me do it for her; so take that, you coward.”

The leathern thong whistled in the air, and curled about Steeve’s shoulders; but John felt there was something despicable in the unequal contest. He threw his whip away, and, still holding him by the collar, conducted the softy to the gates of the stable-yard.

“You see that avenue,” he said, pointing down a fair glade that stretched before them, “it leads pretty straight out of the park, and I strongly recommend you, Mr. Stephen Hargraves, to get to the end of it as quick as ever you can, and never to show your ugly white face upon an inch of ground belonging to me again. D’ye hear?”

“E-es, sir.”

“Stay! I suppose there’s wages or something due to you.” He took a handful of money from his waistcoat-pocket and threw it on the ground, sovereigns and half-crowns rolling hither and thither on the gravel path; then, turning on his heel, he left the softy to pick up the scattered treasure. Steeve Hargraves dropped on his knees, and groped about till he had found the last coin; then, as he slowly counted the money from one hand into the other, his white face relapsed into a grin; John Mellish had given him gold and silver amounting to upward of two years of his ordinary wages.

He walked a few paces down the avenue, and then, looking back, shook his fist at the house he was leaving behind him.

“You’re a fine-spirited madam, Mrs. John Mellish, sure enough,” he muttered; “but never you give me a chance of doing you any mischief, or by the Lord, fond as I am, I’ll do it! They think the softy’s up to naught, perhaps. Wait a bit.”

He took his money from his pocket again, and counted it once more as he walked slowly toward the gates of the park.

It will be seen, therefore, that Aurora had two enemies, one without and one within her pleasant home; one for ever brooding discontent and hatred within the holy circle of the domestic hearth, the other plotting ruin and vengeance without the walls of the citadel.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31