Birds of Prey, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 3

“Heart Bare, Heart Hungry, Very Poor.”

Diana Paget left the Kursaal, and walked slowly along the pretty rustic street; now dawdling before a little print-shop, whose contents she knew by heart, now looking back at the great windows of that temple of pleasure which she had just quitted.

“What do they care what becomes of me?” she thought, as she looked up at the blank vacant windows for the last time before she left the main street of Forêtdechêne, and turned into a straggling side-street, whose rugged pavement sloped upward towards the pine-clad hills. The house in which Captain Paget had taken up his abode was a tall white habitation, situated in the narrowest of the narrow by-ways that intersect the main street of the pretty Belgian watering-place; a lane in which the inhabitants of opposite houses may shake hands with one another out of the window, and where the odour of the cabbages and onions so liberally employed in the cuisine of the native offends the nose of the foreigner from sunrise to sunset.

Diana paused for a moment at the entrance to this lane, but, after a brief deliberation, walked onwards.

“What is the use of my going home?” she thought; “they won’t be home for hours to come.”

She walked slowly along the hilly street, and from the street into a narrow pathway winding upward through the pine-wood. Here she was quite alone, and the stillness of the place soothed her. She took off her hat, and slung the faded ribbons across her arm; and the warm breeze lifted the loose hair from her forehead as she wandered upwards. It was a very beautiful face from which that loose dark hair was lifted by the summer wind. Diana Paget inherited something of the soft loveliness of Mary Anne Kepp, and a little of the patrician beauty of the Pagets. The eyes were like those which had watched Horatio Paget on his bed of sickness in Tulliver’s-terrace. The resolute curve of the thin flexible lips, and the fine modelling of the chin, were hereditary attributes of the Nugent Pagets; and a resemblance to the lower part of Miss Paget’s face might have been traced in many a sombre portrait of dame and cavalier at Thorpehaven Manor, where a Nugent Paget, who acknowledged no kindred with the disreputable Captain, was now master.

The girl’s reflections as she slowly climbed the hill were not pleasant. The thoughts of youth should be very beautiful; but youth that has been spent in the companionship of reprobates and tricksters is something worse than age; for experience has taught it to be bitter, while time has not taught it to be patient. For Diana Paget, childhood had been joyless, and girlhood lonely. That blank and desolate region, that dreary flat of fenny waste ground between Vauxhall and Battersea, on which the child’s eyes had first looked, had been typical of her loveless childhood. With her mother’s death faded the one ray of light that had illumined her desolation. She was shifted from one nurse to another; and bar nurses were not allowed to love her, for she remained with them as an encumbrance and a burden. It was so difficult for the Captain to pay the pitiful sum demanded for his daughter’s support — or rather it was so much easier for him not to pay it. So there always came a time when Diana was delivered at her father’s lodgings like a parcel, by an indignant nurse, who proclaimed the story of her wrongs in shrill feminine treble, and who was politely informed by the Captain that her claim was a common debt, and that she had the remedy in her own hands, but that the same code of laws which provided her with that remedy, forbade any obnoxious demonstration of her anger in a gentleman’s apartment. And then Miss Paget, after hearing all the tumult and discussion, would be left alone with her father, and would speedily perceive that her presence was disagreeable to him.

When she outgrew the age of humble foster-mothers and cottages in the dreariest of the outlying suburbs, the Captain sent his daughter to school: and on this occasion he determined on patronising a person whom he had once been too proud to remember among the list of his kindred. There are poor and straggling branches upon every family tree; and the Pagets of Thorpehaven had needy cousins who, in the mighty battle of life, were compelled to fight amongst the rank and file. One of these poor cousins was a Miss Priscilla Paget, who at an early age had exhibited that affection for intellectual pursuits and that carelessness as to the duties of the toilet which are supposed to distinguish the predestined blue-stocking. Left quite alone in the world, Priscilla put her educational capital to good use; and after holding the position of principal governess for nearly twenty years in a prosperous boarding-school at Brompton, she followed her late employer to her grave with unaffected sorrow, and within a month of the funeral invested her savings in the purchase of the business, and established herself as mistress of the mansion. To this lady Captain Paget confided his daughter’s education; and in Priscilla Paget’s house Diana found a shelter that was almost like a home, until her kinswoman became weary of promises that were never kept, and pitiful sums paid on account of a debt that grew bigger every day — very weary likewise of conciliatory hampers of game and barrels of oysters, and all the flimsy devices of a debtor who is practised in the varied arts of the gentlemanly swindler.

The day came when Miss Paget resolved to be rid of her profitless charge; and once more Diana found herself delivered like a parcel of unordered goods at the door of her father’s lodging. Those are precocious children who learn their first lessons in the school of poverty; and the girl had been vaguely conscious of the degradation involved in this process at the age of five. How much more keenly did she feel the shame at the age of fifteen! Priscilla did her best to lessen the pain of her pupil’s departure.

“It isn’t that I’ve any fault to find with you, Diana, though you must remember that I have heard some complaints of your temper,” she said, with gentle gravity; “but your father is too trying. If he didn’t make me any promises, I should think better of him. If he told me frankly that he couldn’t pay me, and asked me to keep you out of charity,”— Diana drew herself up with a little shiver at this word — “why, I might turn it over in my mind, and see if it could be done. But to be deceived time after time, as I’ve been deceived — you know the solemn language your father has used, Diana, for you have heard him — and to rely on a sum of money on a certain date, as I have relied again and again, after Horatio’s assurance that I might depend upon him — it’s too bad, Diana; it’s more than any one can endure. If you were two or three years older, and further advanced in your education, I might manage to do something for you by making you useful with the little ones; but I can’t afford to keep you and clothe you during the next three years for nothing, and so I have no alternative but to send you home.”

The “home” to which Diana Paget was taken upon this occasion was a lodging over a toyshop in the Westminster-road, where the Captain lived in considerable comfort on the proceeds of a Friendly and Philanthropic Loan Society.

But no very cordial welcome awaited Diana in the gaudily-furnished drawing-room over the toyshop. She found her father sleeping placidly in his easy-chair, while a young man, who was a stranger to her, sat at a table near the window writing letters. It was a dull November day — a very dreary day on which to find one’s self thrown suddenly on a still drearier world; and in the Westminster-bridge-road the lamps were already making yellow patches of sickly light amidst the afternoon fog.

The Captain twitched his silk handkerchief off his face with an impatient gesture as Diana entered the room.

“Now, then, what is it?” he asked peevishly, without looking at the intruder.

He recognised her in the next moment; but that first impatient salutation was about as warm a welcome as any which Miss Paget received from her father. In sad and bitter truth, he did not care for her. His marriage with Mary Anne Kepp had been the one grateful impulse of his life; and even the sentiment which had prompted that marriage had been by no means free from the taint of selfishness. But he had been quite unprepared to find that this grand sacrifice of his life should involve another sacrifice in the maintenance of a daughter he did not want; and he was very much inclined to quarrel with the destiny that had given him this burden.

“If you had been a boy, I might have made you useful to me sooner or later,” the Captain said to his daughter when he found himself alone with her late on the night of her return; “but what on earth am I to do with a daughter, in the unsettled life I lead? However, since that old harridan has sent you back, you must manage in the best way you can,” concluded Captain Paget with a discontented sigh.

From this time Diana Paget had inhabited the nest of the vultures, and every day had brought its new lesson of trickery and falsehood. There are men — and bad men too — who would have tried to keep the secret of their shifts and meannesses hidden from an only child; but Horatio Paget believed himself the victim of man’s ingratitude, and his misdoings the necessity of an evil destiny. It is not easy for the unsophisticated intellect to gauge those moral depths to which the man who lives by his wits must sink before his career is finished, or to understand how, with every step in the swindler’s downward road, the conscience grows tougher, the perception of shame blunter, the savage selfishness of the animal nature stronger. Diana Paget had discovered some of her father’s weaknesses during her miserable childhood; and in the days of her unpaid-for schooling she had known that his most solemn promises were no more to be relied on than the capricious breath of a summer breeze. So the revelations which awaited her under the paternal roof were not utterly strange or entirely unexpected. Day by day she grew more accustomed to that atmosphere of fraud and falsehood. The sense of shame never left her; for there is a pride that thrives amidst poverty and degradation, and of such pride Diana Paget possessed no small share. She writhed under the consciousness that she was the daughter of a man who had forfeited all right to the esteem of his fellowmen. She valued the good opinion of others, and would fain have been beloved and admired, trusted and respected; for she was ambitious: and the though that she might one day do something which should lift her above the vulgar level was the day-dream that had consoled her in many an hour of humiliation and discomfort. Diana Paget felt the Captain’s shame as keenly as her mother had felt it; but the remorse which had agonised gentle Mary Anne, the tender compassion for others which had wrung that fond and faithful heart, had no place in the breast of the Captain’s daughter.

Diana felt so much compassion for herself, that she had none left to bestow upon other people. Her father’s victims might be miserable, but was not she infinitely more wretched? The landlady who found her apartments suddenly tenantless and her rent unpaid might complain of the hardness of her fortune; but was it not harder for Diana, with the sensitive feelings and keen pride of the Pagets, to endure all the degradation involved in the stealthy carrying away of luggage and a secret departure under cover of night?

At first Miss Paget had been inclined to feel aggrieved by the presence of the young man whom she had seen writing letters in the gloomy dusk of the November afternoon; but in due time she came to accept him as a companion, and to feel that her joyless life would have been drearier without him. He was the secretary of the Friendly and Philanthropic Loan Society, and of any other society organised by the Captain. He was Captain Paget’s amanuensis and representative — Captain Paget’s tool, but not Captain Paget’s dupe; for Valentine Hawkehurst was not of that stuff of which dupes are made.

The man who lives by his wits has need of a faithful friend and follower. The chief of the vultures must not be approached too easily. There must be a preparatory ordeal, an outer chamber to be passed, before the victim is introduced to the sanctuary which is irradiated by the silver veil of the prophet. Captain Paget found an able coadjutor in Valentine Hawkehurst, who answered one of those tempting advertisements in which A. B.C. or X. Y. Z. was wont to offer a salary of three hundred a year to any gentlemanly person capable of performing the duties of secretary to a newly-established company. It was only after responding to this promising offer that the applicant was informed that he must possess one indispensable qualification in the shape of a capital of five hundred pounds. Mr Hawkehurst laughed aloud when the Captain imparted this condition with that suave and yet dignified manner which was peculiar to him.

“I ought to have known it was a dodge of that kind,” said the young man coolly. “Those very good things — duties light and easy, hours from twelve till four, speedy advancement certain for a conscientious and gentlemanly person, and so on — are always of the genus do. Your advertisement is very cleverly worded, my dear sir; only it’s like the rest of them, rather too clever. It is so difficult for a clever man not to be too clever. The prevailing weakness of the human intellect seems to me to be exaggeration. However, as I haven’t a five-pound note in the world, or the chance of getting one, I’ll wish you good morning, Captain Paget.”

There are people whose blood would have been turned to ice by the stony glare of indignation with which Horatio Paget regarded the man who had dared to question his probity. But Mr. Hawkehurst had done with strong impressions long before he met the Captain; and he listened to that gentleman’s freezing reproof with an admiring smile. Out of this very unpromising beginning there arose a kind of friendship between the two men. Horatio Paget had for some time been in need of a clever tool; and in the young man whose cool insolence rose superior to his own dignity he perceived the very individual whom he had long been seeking. The young man who was unabashed by the indignation of a scion of Nugents and Cromies and Pagets must be utterly impervious to the sense of awe; and it was just such an impervious young man that the Captain wanted as his coadjutor. Thus arose the alliance, which grew stronger every day, until Valentine took up his abode under the roof of his employer and patron, and made himself more thoroughly at home there than the unwelcome daughter of the house.

The history of Valentine Hawkehurst’s past existence was tolerably well known to the Captain; but the only history of the young man’s early life ever heard by Diana was rather vague and fragmentary. She discovered, little by little, that he was the son of a spendthrift littérateur, who had passed the greater part of his career within the rules of the King’s Bench; that he had run away from home at the age of fifteen, and had tried his fortune in all those professions which require no educational ordeal, and which seem to offer themselves invitingly to the scapegrace and adventurer. At fifteen Valentine Hawkehurst had been errand-boy in a newspaper office; at seventeen a penny-a-liner, whose flimsy was pretty sure of admission in the lower class of Sunday papers. In the course of a very brief career he had been a provincial actor, a manège rider in a circus, a billiard-marker, and a betting agent. It was after having exhausted these liberal professions that he encountered Captain Paget.

Such was the man whom Horatio Paget admitted to companionship with his only daughter. It can scarcely be pleaded in excuse for the Captain that he might have admitted a worse man than Valentine Hawkehurst to his family circle, for the Captain had never taken the trouble to sound the depths of his coadjutor’s nature. There is nothing so short-sighted as selfishness; and beyond the narrow circle immediately surrounding himself, there was no man more blind than Horatio Paget.

It was dusk when Diana grew tired of the lonely pathways among the hills, where the harmonies of a band stationed in the valley were wafted in gusts of music by the fitful summer breeze. The loneliness of the place soothed the girl’s feverish spirits; and, seated in a little classic temple upon the summit of a hill, she looked pensively downward through the purple mists at the newly-lighted lamps twinkling faintly in the valley.

“One does not feel the sting of one’s shabbiness here,” thought Miss Paget: “the trees are all dressed alike. Nature makes no distinction. It is only Fortune who treats her children unfairly.”

The Captain’s daughter walked slowly back to the little town in the deepening dusk. The lodging occupied by Horatio Paget and his household consisted of four roomy chambers on the second story of a big rambling house. The rooms were meanly furnished, and decorated with the tawdry ornamentation dear to the continental mind; but there were long wide windows and an iron balcony, on which Diana Paget was often pleased to sit.

She found the sitting-room dark and empty. No dinner had been prepared; for on lucky days the Captain and his protégé were wont to dine at the table d’hôte of one of the hotels, or to feast sumptuously à la carte, while on unlucky days they did not dine at all. Diana found a roll and some cream cheese in a roomy old cupboard that was flavoured with mice; and after making a very indifferent meal in the dusky chamber, she went out upon the balcony, and sat there looking down upon the lighted town.

She had been sitting there for nearly an hour in the same attitude, when the door of the sitting-room was opened, and a footstep sounded behind her. She knew the step; and although she did not lift her head, her eyes took a new brightness in the summer dusk, and the listless grace of her attitude changed to a statuesque rigidity, though there was no change in the attitude itself.

She did not stir till a hand was laid softly on her shoulder, and a voice said — “Diana!”

The speaker was Valentine Hawkehurst, the young man whose entrance to the golden temple had been so closely watched by Captain Paget’s daughter.

She rose as he spoke, and turned to him. “You have been losing, I suppose, Mr. Hawkehurst,” she said, “or you would not have come home?”

“I am compelled to admit that you are right in your premise, Miss Paget, and your deduction is scarcely worth discussion. I have been losing — confoundedly; and as they don’t give credit at the board of green cloth yonder, there was no excuse for my staying. Your father has not been holding his own within the last hour or two; but when I left the rooms he was going to the Hotel d’Orange with some French fellows for a quiet game of écarté. Our friend the Captain is a great card, Miss Paget, and has a delightful talent for picking up distinguished acquaintance.”

There are few daughters who would have cared to hear a father spoken of in this free-and-easy manner; but Diana Paget was quite unmoved. She had resumed her old attitude, and sat looking towards the lighted windows of the Kursaal, while Mr. Hawkehurst lounged against the angle of the window with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in his mouth.

For three years Valentine Hawkehurst had lived in constant companionship with the Captain’s daughter; and in that time his manner to her had undergone considerable variation. Of late it had been something in the manner of an elder brother, whose fraternal breast is impervious to the influence of a sister’s loveliness or a sister’s fascination. If Diana Paget had been a snub-nosed young person with red hair and white eyelashes, Mr. Hawkehurst could scarcely have treated her with a more friendly indifference, a more brotherly familiarity.

Unhappily this line of conduct, which is perhaps the wisest and most honourable plan that a man can pursue when he finds himself thrown into a dangerously familiar association with a beautiful and unprotected woman, is the very line of proceeding which a beautiful woman can never bring herself to forgive. A chivalrous stiffness, a melancholy dignity, a frozen frigidity, which suggest the fiery bubbling of the lava flood beneath the icy surface — these are delightful to the female mind. But friendly indifference and fraternal cordiality constitute the worst insult that can be offered to her beauty, the most bitter outrage upon the majesty of her sex.

“I suppose it will be midnight before papa comes home, Mr. Hawkehurst,” Diana said abruptly, when her companion had finished his cigar, and had thrown the end of it over the balcony.

“Past midnight more likely, Miss Paget. May I ask how I have become Mr. Hawkehurst all of a sudden, when for the last three years I have been usually known as Valentine — or Val?”

The girl turned her head with a gesture in which the carelessness of his own manner was imitated. She stole a rapid look at him as she answered, “What does it matter whether I call you by one name or another?”

“What does anything matter? I believe Mr. Toots was an unconscious philosopher. There is nothing in the world of any consequence, except money. Go and look at those poor devils yonder, and you will see what that is worth,” he cried, pointing to the lighted Kursaal; “there you behold the one great truth of the universe in action. There is nothing but money, and men are the slaves of money, and life is only another name for the pursuit of money. Go and look at beauty yonder fading in the light and heat; at youth that changes to age before your eyes; at friendship which turns to hate when the chances of the game are with my friend and against me. The Kursaal is the world in little, Diana; and this great globe of ours is nothing but a gigantic gaming-table — a mighty temple for the worship of the golden calf.”

“Why do you imitate those people yonder, if you despise them so heartily?”

“Because I am like them and of them. I tell you that money is the beginning and end of all things. Why am I here, and why is my life made up of baseness and lies? Because my father was an improvident scoundrel, and did not leave me five hundred a year. I wonder what I should have been like, by the bye, if I had been blest with five hundred a year?”

“Honest and happy,” answered the girl earnestly. She forgot her simulated indifference, and looked at him with sad earnest eyes. He met the glance, and the expression of his own face changed from its cynical smile to a thoughtful sadness.

“Honest perhaps; and yet I almost doubt if anything under five thousand a year would have kept me honest. Decidedly not happy; the men who can be happy on five hundred a year are made of a duller stuff than the clay which serves for a Hawkehurst.”

“You talk about not being happy with five hundred a year!” Diana exclaimed impatiently. “Surely any decent existence would be happiness to you compared to the miserable life you lead — the shameful, degraded life which shuts you out of the society of respectable people and reduces you to the level of a thief. If you had any pride, Valentine, you would feel it as bitterly as I do.”

“But I haven’t any pride. As for my life — well, I suppose it is shameful and degraded, and I know that it’s often miserable; but it suits me better than jog-trot respectability, I can dine one day on truffled turkey and champagne, another day upon bread and cheese and small beer; but I couldn’t eat beef and mutton always. That’s what kills people of my temperament. There are born scamps in the world, Diana, and I am one of them. My name is Robert Macaire, and I was created for the life I lead. Keep clear of me if you have any hankering after better things; but don’t try to change my nature, for it is wasted labour.”

“Valentine, it is so cruel of you to talk like that.”

“Cruel to whom?”

“To — those — who care for you.”

It was quite dark now; but even in the darkness Diana Paget’s head drooped a little as she said this. Mr. Hawkehurst laughed aloud.

“Those who care for me!” he cried; “no such people ever lived. My father was a drunken scoundrel, who suffered his children to grow up about him as he would have suffered a litter of puppies to sprawl upon his hearth, only because there was less trouble in letting them lie there than in kicking them out. My mother was a good woman in the beginning, I know; but she must have been something more than a mortal woman if she had not lost some of her goodness in twelve years of such a life as she led with my father. I believe she was fond of me, poor soul; but she died six months before I ran away from a lodging in the Rules, which it is the bitterest irony to speak of as my home. Since then I have been Robert Macaire, and have about as many friends as such a man usually has.”

“You can scarcely wonder if you have few friends,” said Miss Paget, “since there is no one in the world whom you love.”

She watched him through the darkness after saying this, watched him closely, though it was too dark for her to see the expression of his face, and any emotion to which her words might have given rise could be betrayed only by some gesture or change of attitude. She watched him in vain, for he did not stir. But after a pause of some minutes he said slowly —

“Such a man as I cannot afford to love any one. What have I to offer to the woman I might pretend to love? Truth, or honour, or honesty, or constancy? Those are commodities I have never dealt in. If I know what they are, and that I have never possessed them, it is about as much as I do know of them. If I have any redeeming grace, Diana Paget, it lies in the fact that I know what a worthless wretch I am. Your father thinks he is a great man, a noble suffering creature, and that the world has ill-used him. I know that I am a scoundrel, and that let my fellow-men treat me as badly as they please, they can never give me worse usage than I deserve. And am I a man to talk about love, or to ask a woman to share my life? Good God, what a noble partner I should offer her! what a happy existence I could assure her!”

“But if the woman loved you, she would only love you better for being unfortunate.”

“Yes, if she was very young and foolish and romantic. But don’t you think I should be a villain if I traded on her girlish folly? She would love me for a year or two perhaps, and bear all the changes of my temper; but the day would come when she would awake from her delusion, and know that she had been cheated. She would see other women — less gifted than herself, probably — and would see the market they had made of their charms; would see them rich and honoured and happy, and would stand aside in the muddy streets to be splashed by the dirt from their carriage-wheels. And then she would consider the price for which she had bartered her youth and her beauty, and would hate the man who had cheated her. No, Diana, I am not such a villain as the world may think me. I am down in the dirt myself, and I’m used to it. I won’t drag a woman into the gutter just because I may happen to love her.”

There was a long silence after this — a silence during which Diana Paget sat looking down at the twinkling lights of the Kursaal. Valentine lighted a second cigar and smoked it out, still in silence. The clocks struck eleven as he threw the end of his cigar away; a tiny, luminous speck, which shot through the misty atmosphere below the balcony like a falling star.

“I may as well go and see how your father is getting on yonder,” he said, as the spark of light vanished in the darkness below. “Good night, Diana. Don’t sit too long in the cold night air; and don’t sit up for your father — there’s no knowing when he may be home.”

The girl did not answer him. She listened to the shutting of the door as it closed behind him, and then folded her arms upon the iron rail of the balcony, laid her head upon them, and wept silently. Her life was very dreary, and it seemed to her as if the last hope which had sustained her against an unnatural despair had been taken away from her to-night.

Twelve o’clock sounded with a feeble little carillon from one of the steeples, and still she sat with her head resting upon her folded arms. Her eyes were quite dry by this time, for with her tears were very rare, and the passion which occasioned them must needs be intense. The night air grew chill and damp; but although she shivered now and then beneath that creeping, penetrating cold which is peculiar to night air, she did not stir from her place in the balcony till she was startled by the opening of the door in the room behind her.

All was dark within, but Diana Paget was very familiar with the footstep that sounded on the carpetless floor. It was Valentine Hawkehurst, and not her father, whose step her quick ear distinguished.

“Diana,” he called; and then he muttered in a tone of surprise, “all dark still. Ah! she has gone to bed, I suppose. That’s a pity!” The figure in the balcony caught his eye at this moment.

“What in goodness’ name has kept you out there all this time?” he asked; “do you want to catch your death of cold?”

He was standing by the mantelpiece lighting a candle as he asked this unceremonious question. The light of the candle shone full upon his face when Diana came into the room, and she could see that he was paler than usual.

“Is there anything the matter?” she asked anxiously.

“Yes; there is a great deal the matter. You will have to leave Forêtdechêne by the earliest train to-morrow morning, on the first stage of your journey to England. Look here, my girl! I can give you just about the money that will carry you safely to London; and when you are once there, Providence must do the rest.”

“Valentine, what do you mean?”

“I mean, that you cannot get away from this place — you cannot dissever yourself from the people you have been living with, too soon. Come, come, don’t shiver, child. Take a few drops of this cognac, and let me see the colour come back to your face before I say any more.”

He poured the dregs of a bottle of brandy into a glass, and made her drink the spirit. He was obliged to force the rim of the glass between her set teeth before he could succeed in this.

“Come, Diana,” he said, after she had drunk, “you have been a pupil in the school of adversity so long, that you ought to be able to take misfortunes pretty quietly. There’s a balance struck, somehow or other, depend upon it, my girl; and the prosperous people who pay their debts have to suffer, as well as the Macaire family. I’m a scamp and a scoundrel, but I’m your true friend nevertheless, Diana; and you must promise to take my advice. Tell me that you will trust me.”

“I have no one else to trust.”

“No one else in this place. But in England you have your old friend — the woman with whom you were at school. Do you think she would refuse to give you a temporary home if you sued to her in formâ pauperis?

“No, I don’t think she would refuse. She was very good to me. But why am I to go back to London?”

“Because to stay here would be ruin and disgrace to you; because the tie that links you to Horatio Paget must be cut at any hazard.” “But why?”

“For the best or worst of reasons. Your father has been trying a trick to-night which has been hitherto so infallible, that I suppose he had grown careless as to his execution of it. Or perhaps he took a false measure of the man he was playing with. In any case, he has been found out, and has been arrested by the police.”

“Arrested, for cheating at cards!” exclaimed the girl, with a look of unspeakable disgust and horror. Valentine’s arm was ready to support her, if she had shown any symptom of fainting; but she did not. She stood erect before him, very pale but firm as a rock.

“And you want me to go away?” she said.

“Yes, I want you to disappear from this place before you become notorious as your father’s daughter. That would be about the worst reputation which you could carry through life. Believe me that I wish you well, Diana, and be ruled by me.”

“I will,” she answered, with a kind of despairing resignation. “It seems very dreary to go back to England to face the world all alone. But I will do as you tell me.”

She did not express any sympathy for her father, then languishing under arrest, whereby she proved herself very wicked and unwomanly, no doubt. But neither womanly virtues nor Christian graces are wont to flourish in the school in which Diana Paget had been reared. She obeyed Valentine Hawkehurst to the letter, without any sentimental lamentations whatever. Her scanty possessions were collected, and neatly packed, in little more than an hour. At three o’clock she lay down in her tawdry little bed-chamber to take what rest she might in the space of two hours. At six she stood by Valentine Hawkehurst on the platform of the railway station, with her face hidden by a brown gauze veil, waiting till the train was wade ready to start.

It was after she was seated in the carriage that she spoke for the first time of her father.

“Is it likely to go very hard with him?” she asked.

“I hope not. We must try to pull him through it as well as we can. The charge may break down at the first examination. Good bye.”

“Good bye, Valentine.”

They had just time to shake hands before the train moved off. Another moment and Miss Paget and her fellow-passengers were speeding towards Liége.

Mr. Hawkehurst drew his hat over his eyes as he walked away from the station.

“The world will seem very dull and empty to me without her,” he said to himself. “I have done an unselfish thing for once in my life. I wonder whether the recording angel will carry that up to my credit, and whether the other fellow will blot out any of the old score in consideration of this one little bit of self-sacrifice.”

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