Charlotte's Inheritance, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 4

Only a Dream.

“I say, Lenoble,” Captain Paget began abruptly one afternoon when his daughter and his future son-in-law were in attendance upon his sofa, “when are you and Diana to be married? There is nothing to hinder your marriage now, you know.”

Diana looked at the speaker with a grave countenance.

“Dear papa, there can be no marriage while you are so ill,” she said gently.

“And afterwards, when I’m gone, you won’t like to marry within six months of your father’s funeral; and you will be left alone in the world. You can’t hang on to Hawkehurst and his wife. The best thing you can do, Lenoble, is to marry her out of hand, and let me see her by my bedside as Madame Lenoble of Côtenoir. It will be some consolation for me to see that day. I thought to have shared your home, with a run to Paris occasionally just to freshen myself up a little; but that’s all over now. It does seem rather hard to me sometimes; and I think of Moses, and his forty years in the Desert with those ill-conditioned Israelites, who were always getting into some scrape of other — setting up golden calves, and that kind of thing — if he turned his back on them for twenty-four hours. A pack of ungrateful beggars too, always ready for mutiny — regular radicals, begad! And he went through it all: the sand, and the toujours quails, and the ingratitude; and after forty years of it, when he saw the Promised Land stretched before him green and fertile on the other side of the river — he died! I’ve been through my desert, the dreary wanderings over the barren sand, and the ingratitude of men I’ve served. Yes, I’ve gone through it all; and just as I catch a glimpse of Canaan, the curtain drops.”

On this they comforted him; and sustained him with the promise of a brighter Canaan than Côtenoir.

“Yes,” he said in a dreamy voice, “I read about it very often. A city with foundations of jasper and chalcedony, emerald and sardonyx; gates of pearl, pavements of gold. That’s what St. John the Evangelist saw in his vision; and we’ve only his word for it. But there’s something that I can believe and can understand: ‘In my Father’s house there are many mansions.’ There’s more hope for a sinful man of the world in that promise than is all St. John’s dreams about gates of pearl and foundations of emerald.”

The Captain was failing fast. He had exchanged his easy-chair for a sofa now; and the time seemed near at hand when he must exchange the sofa for his bed. After that there would remain but one last change, to the contemplation whereof the sick man was becoming daily more reconciled.

He had read his Gospel more diligently of late, and had taken comfort from those sublime pages. Do they not contain consolation, hope, promise for all — for the weary man of the world as well as for the saint? There is to be found the only creed that can adapt itself to every condition of life, and has a margin wide enough for every weakness of erring humanity. Buddhism may contain a scheme of morality almost as perfect; Mahomet may have expounded hopes that seem well-nigh as divine; but in the Gospel is the only system that will adapt itself at once to the culture of the spiritual man, and the active life of the practical worker in this lower world.

Gustave Lenoble was only too glad to claim his promised wife a little sooner than he had hoped to claim her. “Thou hast put me off long enough, cruel,” he said; “and now it is thy father’s wish that our marriage should be soon. It shall be this week; I will take no longer thine excuses. We shall be the sooner ready to receive thy friends, thy Charlotte and her Hawkehurst.”

Diana smiled.

“Dear Gustave, you are always kind,” she said.

It was very sweet to her to think that her new home would afford a pleasant haven for that dear friend who had sheltered her. And with Charlotte, the dear adopted sister, would come the man she had once loved, to share whose cares had once been the brightest dream.

She wondered at her own inconstancy on perceiving how completely the dream had flown. Before the stern realities of life — before sickness and sorrow and the dread shadow of death — that schoolgirl’s vision had utterly melted away. It is just possible that Gustave’s manly outspoken love may have helped to blot from the tablet of her mind the fantastic picture of the life that might have been. She scarcely knew whether this was so; but she did know that a new and happier existence began for her from the hour in which she gave her heart in all truth and loyalty to Gustave Lenoble.

The wedding was arranged to take place within a week of Captain Paget’s expressly declared wish. It was to be solemnised at a church near Knightsbridge, and again at a Catholic chapel in the neighbourhood of Sloane-street; by which double ceremonial a knot would be tied that no legal quibble could hereafter loosen. Charlotte was just sufficiently recovered to obtain permission to be present at the ceremonial, after some little exercise of her persuasive powers with the medical practitioner to whose care Dr. Jedd had committed her when all danger was past.

The Captain protested, with an eager insistence, that the wedding breakfast should be eaten at his domicile.

“And Val,” he said, “be sure Val is with you. I have a secret to tell him — a kind of atonement to make; some news to give him that he won’t quite relish, perhaps. But that’s no fault of mine.”

“No bad news, I hope, papa; for Charlotte’s sake as well as for Valentine’s.”

“That depends upon how they both take it. Your friend Charlotte is not particularly fond of money, is she?”

“Fond of money, papa? A baby knows as much of the value of money as Lotta. Except to give to beggars in the streets, or to buy pretty frivolous presents for her friends, she has neither use nor desire for money. She is the most generous, most disinterested of created beings.”

“I’m very glad to hear it,” said the Captain, drily. “And how about Hawkehurst, now? Do you think it was a real love-match, his marriage with Miss Halliday? No arrière pensée— no looking out for the main chance at the bottom of his romantic attachment, eh, Di?”

“No, papa. I am sure there was never truer love than his. I saw him under most trying circumstances, and I can pledge myself for the truth of his devotion.”

“I am very glad to hear it. Be sure you bring Hawkehurst and his wife to my little breakfast. A chicken, a pine, a bottle of sparkling hock, and a fond father’s blessing, are all I shall give you; but the chicken and the hock will be from Gunter, and the blessing from the bottom of a paternal heart.”

Bright shone the day that gave Diana to her husband, and very beautiful looked the bride in her simple dress. Gustave Lenoble’s marriage was no less quietly performed than that union which had secured the safety of Charlotte Halliday and the happiness of Valentine Hawkehurst. The shadow of death hovered very near bride and bridegroom; for they knew full well that he who was to preside that day at their simple marriage-feast would soon have tasted that last sacred cup which has no after-flavour of bitterness.

The breakfast promised by the Captain was arranged with much elegance. Hothouse flowers and fruits; wines with the icedew sparkling on the dark glass; chickens and tongue, idealized by the confectioner’s art, and scarcely recognizable beneath rich glazings and embellishments of jellies and forcemeats; the airiest and least earthly of lobster salads, and a pyramid of coffee-ice, testified to the glory of the Belgravian purveyor. It had been pleasant to Captain Paget to send his orders to Gunter, certain of funds to meet the bill. It was almost a glimpse of that land of milk and honey, that Canaan in Normandy, which he was never to inhabit.

He was very weak, very ill; but the excitement of the occasion in some measure sustained and revivified him. The man who had been engaged to nurse and wait upon him had attired him with much care in a dressing-gown as elegant as the robe in which he had disported himself, a penniless young cornet, in his luxurious garrison quarters, some fifty years before. His loose white locks were crowned with an embroidered smoking-cap; his patrician instep was set off by a dainty scarlet slipper. He had put away the Gospel, and all thoughts of that dread reckoning which he had really some shadowy desire and hope to settle satisfactorily, by some poor dividend which might discharge his obligations to that merciful Creditor who forgives so many just debts. To-day he was of the world, worldly. It was a kind of ante-mortem lying-in-state — his last levee; and he was equal to the occasion.

The prettily adorned table was drawn near the sofa where the invalid host reclined, supported by numerous pillows. His daughter and her husband, Valentine, Charlotte, and Georgy, made a little circle about him. His own man, and a clerical-looking person from Gunter’s, assisted at the airy banquet. Very little was eaten by any of the guests, and it was a relief to every one when the clerical personage and Captain Paget’s factotum retired, after serving tea and coffee with funereal solemnity.

Valentine Hawkehurst was all gentleness and cordiality towards his old taskmaster. The wrong must indeed be dire which is considered in such an hour as this. Valentine remembered only that with this old man he had seen many troubled days; and that for him the end of all earthly wanderings was very near.

The little banquet was not served in Captain Paget’s ordinary sitting-room. For this distinguished occasion the landlady had lent a dining-room and drawing-room on the ground floor, just deserted by a fashionable bachelor lodger who had left town at the close of the season. This drawing-room on the ground floor, like the room above, overlooked the Park, and to this apartment the Captain requested his guests to adjourn, with the exception of Mr. Hawkehurst, some little time after the departure of the servants.

“I want to have a few words with Val in private,” he said; “I have a secret to communicate. Diana, show Mrs. Hawkehurst the Drive. You can see the Bow from my room, but not from these lower windows. There are a good many carriages still, but it is too late for the crême de la crême. I remember when the West End was a desert at this time of year; but I have lived to see the levelling of all distinctions, those of time as well as of class.”

Charlotte and Diana retired to the adjoining room with Mrs. Sheldon and M. Lenoble. Valentine was at a loss to imagine what manner of confidential communication his late patron and employer could desire to impart to him. The cautious Horatio waited until the rest of the party were quite out of hearing, talking gaily by the open window, beyond which appeared all the fluttering life and motion of summer leaves, all the brightness of summer green below, and deep blue sky above. When they seemed to him to be quite engaged with their own conversation, Captain Paget turned to his old companion.

“Val,” he said, “we have seen hard times together we’ve roughed it among strange places and strange people, you know and so on; and I think there is a friendly kind of feeling between us?”

He held out his poor wasted hand, and Valentine grasped it firmly in his own with prompt cordiality.

“My dear governor, I have no feeling in my heart that is not friendly to you.”

This was perfectly true.

“And even if I had been inclined to bear any grudge against you on account of the old days, when, you know, you were a little apt to be indifferent as to what scrape you left me in, provided you got off scot-free yourself; if I had been inclined to remember that kind of thing (which, on my honour, I am not), your daughter’s noble courage and devotion in the time of my dear wife’s peril should have stood against that old wrong. I cannot tell you how deeply I feel her goodness in that bitter time.”

“She is a Paget,” murmured the Captain, complacently. “Noblesse oblige.

Valentine could scarcely refrain from a smile as he remembered the many occasions upon which the obligations of a noble lineage had weighed very lightly on his aristocratic patron.

“Yes, Val,” the Captain resumed, in a dreamy tone, “we have seen many strange things together. When I began my travels through this world, in the palmy days of the Regency, I little thought what a weary journey it was to be, and what queer people I was to encounter among my fellow-passengers. However, I’ve come to the last stage of the long journey now, and I thank Providence that it ends so comfortably.”

To this Valentine assented kindly, but he was at a loss to understand why Captain Paget should have required the adjournment of the rest of the party before giving utterance to these mild commonplaces.

For some moments the invalid relapsed into thoughtful silence. Then, rousing himself as if with an effort, he took a few sips of a cooling drink that stood by his side, and began with a startling abruptness.

“You remember your journey to Dorking, Val, last October, when you went to see that mysterious old aunt of yours, eh?”

Valentine blushed as the Captain recalled this cunningly-devised fable.

“Yes,” he said gravely; “I remember telling you that I was going to see an aunt at Dorking.”

“An aunt who had a little bit of money, eh, Val?” asked the Captain, with a grin.

“Yes. I may have gone so far as to speak of a little bit of money.”

“And neither the aunt nor the bit of money ever existed, eh, Val? They were mere figments of the brain; and instead of going to Dorking you went to Ullerton, eh, Val? You stole a march upon me there. You wanted to throw your old chum off the scent, eh? You thought you had got hold of a good thing, and you were afraid your friend and companion might get a share of it.”

“Well, you see, my friend and companion had a knack of getting the lion’s share. Besides, this good thing was not my own affair. I had to protect the interest of another person — my employer, in point of fact; and it was by his suggestion, and in compliance with his request, that I invented that harmless fiction about Dorking. I don’t think there was any dishonourable dealing in the matter. We were soldiers of fortune both; and the stratagem with which I protected myself against you was a very innocent one. You would have employed any stratagem or invented any fiction under the same circumstances. It was a case of diamond cut diamond.”

“Precisely; and if the older soldier, if the free lance of many a campaign, got the best of it in the long run, the younger freebooter could hardly think himself ill-used — could he now, Val?”

“Well, no, I suppose not,” replied Valentine, puzzled by the significance in the face of his old companion. That sly twinkle in the Captain’s eyes, that triumphant smile wreathing the Captain’s lips, must surely mean mischief.

Valentine Hawkehurst remembered the vague suspicion that had flashed into his mind on that Christmas Eve when Captain Paget and he had dined together at a West End restaurant, and the Captain had toasted Charlotte Halliday with a smile of sinister meaning. He began to anticipate some startling and unpleasant revelation. He began to understand that in some manner this inscrutible schemer had contrived to overreach him.

“What are you going to tell me?” he asked. “I see there is some lurking mischief in your mind. How was it you were at Ullerton when I was there? I met you on the platform of the station, and I had a vague half suspicion that you followed me up on more than one occasion. I saw a glove in a man’s parlour — a glove which I could have sworn to as yours. But when I came back, you were so plausible with your talk of promoting business, and so on, that I was fool enough to believe you. And I suppose you cheated and tricked me after all?”

“Cheated and tricked are hard words, my dear Val,” said the Captain, with delightful blandness. “I had as much right to transact imaginary business in the promoting line at Ullerton as you had to visit a fictitious aunt at Dorking. Self-interest was the governing principle in both cases. I do not think you can have any right to consider yourself injured by me if I did steal a march upon you, and follow close upon your heels throughout that Ullerton business. I do not think that you can have, on moral grounds, any justification for making a complaint against your old ally.”

“Well, I suppose you are right enough in that,” said Valentine.

“Shake hands upon it, then. I have not very long to live, and I want to feel myself at peace with mankind. You see, if you had come to me in the first place, in a frank and generous spirit, and had said, ‘My dear friend, here is a good thing; let us go into it together, and see what there is to be made out of it,’ you would have placed the matter on such a footing that, as a man of honour, I should have been bound to regard your interests as my own. But when you set up a separate interest, when you try to throw dust in my eyes, to hoodwink me — me, Horatio Paget, a man of the world, possessed of some little genius for social diplomacy — you attempt to do that which no man ever yet succeeded in doing, and you immediately release me from those obligations which an honourable man holds sacred. It was my glove which you saw in Mr. Goodge’s parlour. I had a very satisfactory interview with that reverend person while you were absent from Ullerton on some short excursion, as to the purpose of which I am still in the dark. On certain terms Mr. Goodge agreed to give me the privilege of selecting a stated number from the letters of Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth. I have reason to believe that I made a judicious choice; for the information thus obtained placed me at once upon a track which I followed industriously until it led me to a triumphant result.”

“I do not understand —” began Valentine; but the Captain did not allow him time to say more.

“You do not understand that there could be any other genealogical line than that which you and George Sheldon fitted together so neatly. You have neither of you the experience of life which alone gives wideness of vision. You discovered the connections of the Haygarth and the Meynell families in the past. That was a step in the right direction. The discovery, so far as it went, was a triumph. You allowed the sense of that triumph to intoxicate you. In a business which of all businesses within the range of man’s intellect most requires deliberation and sobriety, you went to work in a fever of haste and excitement. Instead of searching out all the descendants of Christian Meynell, you pounce upon the first descendant who comes to hand, and elect her, at your own pleasure, sole heiress to the estate of the deceased John Haygarth. You forget that there may be other descendants of the said Christian Meynell — descendants standing prior to your wife Charlotte in the line of succession.”

“I can imagine no such descendants existing,” said Valentine, with a puzzled manner. “You seem to have made yourself master of our business; but there is one point upon which you are mistaken. George Sheldon and I did not go to work in a fever of haste. We did fully and thoroughly examine the pedigree of that person whom we — and legal advisers of considerable standing — believe to be the sole heir-at-law to the Haygarth estate; and we took good care to convince ourselves that there was no other claimant in existence.”

“What do you call convincing yourselves?”

“Christian Meynell had only three children — Samuel, Susan, and Charlotte. The last, Charlotte, married James Halliday, of Newhall and Hyley farms; the other two died unmarried.”

“How do you know that? How do you propose to demonstrate that Samuel and Susan Meynell died unmarried?”

“Susan was buried in her maiden name. Mrs. Halliday, her sister, was with her when she died. There was no question of marriage; nor is there the record of any marriage contracted by Samuel.”

“All that is no proof.”

“Indeed! I should have thought the evidence sufficient. But, in any case, the onus probandi is not upon us. Can you prove the marriage of the Samuel Meynell who died at Calais, or of the Susan Meynell who died in London?”

“I can. Susan Meynell’s legitimate son is in the next room. It’s an unpleasant kind of revelation to make, Val; as he, the son of one sister, stands prior to your wife, the granddaughter of the other sister, in the order of succession. AND HE TAKES ALL!”

“He takes all!” repeated Valentine, bewildered. “He! Susan Meynell’s son? — in the next room? What does all this mean?”

“It means that when Susan was deserted by the scoundrel who took her away from her home, she found an honest fellow to marry her. The name of her husband was Lenoble. Gustave Lenoble yonder, my daughter’s husband, is her only child by that marriage. A perfectly legal marriage, my dear Val — everything en regle, I assure you. The business is in the hands of Messrs. Dashwood and Vernon of Whitehall — a first-class firm; counsel’s opinion most decided as to Lenoble’s position. They have been rather slow about the preliminary steps; and, entre nous, I have not cared to hurry them, for I wanted to get my daughter’s marriage over quietly before we began our proceedings in Chancery. It comes rather hard upon you, Val, I allow; but, you see, if you had acted generously, not to say honourably, towards me in the first instance, you’d have had the advantage of my experience. As it is, you have been working in the dark. However, things are not so bad as they might be. You might have married some ugly old harridan for the sake of this Haygarth estate; you have secured a pretty and amiable wife, and you mustn’t be downhearted if you find yourself, from a financial point of view, most outrageously sold.”

The Captain could not refrain from a laugh as he contemplated his young friend’s surprise. The laugh degenerated into a fit of coughing, and it was some little time before the enfeebled Horatio was ready to resume the interrupted conversation. In this pause Valentine had leisure to face this new position. There was for the moment a sharp sense of disappointment. It is not possible for humanity to be quite indifferent to a hundred thousand pounds. So much of the “light and sweetness” of life is attainable for that sum — such pleasures, of the purest and noblest, are in the power of the possessor. But in this moment Valentine fully realized the fact that he had never taken the idea of this fortune into his mind — never made it part and parcel of himself, to be plucked out of his heart with anguish, and to leave a bleeding wound in the place where it had grown. It seemed to him as if he had been wakened abruptly from some bright bewildering dream; but the sharp pang of mercenary desires disappointed, of sordid hopes suddenly reft, was not for him.

Beyond this sense of uncertainty, which had made the Haygarthian fortune seem at best such “stuff as dreams are made of,” there had been ever present in his mind of late the dismal association connected with this money. For this, and to get power over this through the rights of his weak wife, had Philip Sheldon plotted against the life of that sweet girl who was but newly rescued from the jaws of the grave. The bitter memory of those days and nights of suspense could never have been quite dissociated from the money that had been the primary cause of all this slow torture.

“Do you think I shall love my wife any less because she has no claim to the Haygarth estate?” he exclaimed presently, looking with half-contemptuous indignation upon the broken-down Bohemer. “I loved her long before I knew the name of Haygarth; I should have loved her if I had found her a beggar in the London streets, a peasant-girl weeding for sixpence a day in some dismal swamp of agricultural poverty and ignorance. I am not going to say that this money would not have brought us pleasure; pictures and gardens, and bright rooms, and books without number, and intercourse with congenial acquaintance and delightful journeyings to all the fairest places upon the earth, and the power to do some good in our generation, and a sense of security for our future, and by-and-by, perhaps, for the future of dear children, for whose prosperity we should be more anxious than for our own. Pleasure the money would most probably have brought for us in abundance; but I doubt if it could buy us more perfect happiness than we may know in the simplest home that my toil can support. Ah, Captain, I question if you ever knew the sweetest sensation life can give — the delight of working for those we love.”

Captain Paget stared at his sometime protege in a kind of rapture of wonder, not entirely unmingled with admiration.

“Egad!” he exclaimed, “I have read of this kind of thing in novels; but in the whole course of my experience I never met with anything equal to it. My son-in-law, Lenoble yonder, is a generous foo — fellow enough; but then, since infancy, he has never known the want of money. And generosity from that kind of man is no more of a virtue than the foolhardiness of a child who pokes his finger into the candle, not knowing the properties of the thing he has to deal with. But anything like generosity from you, from a man reared as you were reared, is, I freely confess, a little beyond my comprehension.”

“Yes; it is a transformation, is it not? But I don’t think I was ever inordinately fond of money. Your genuine Bohemian rarely is. He is too well schooled in the art of living without cash, and he asks so little here below. His pipe, his friend, his dog, his books, his garret, his billiards, his beer. It is all a question of a few pounds a week. And if, some day, the divine enchanter Love takes the poor fellow underbids guidance, and teaches him to do without billiards and beer, your Bohemian settles down into the purest and best of men. Think what Goldy might have been if some good woman had taken compassion upon him and married him, and henpecked him ever afterwards. He might have written as many novels as Sir Walter Scott, and died master of some Hibernian Abbotsford, some fair domain among the bright green hills that look down upon broad Shannon’s silvery falls. No, Captain; your intelligence has not annihilated me. I can face the future boldly with my dear young wife upon my arm.”

“Upon my soul, Val, you’re a very noble fellow!” exclaimed Horatio Paget, with real enthusiasm; “and I am sorry I have kept you in the dark so long.”

“You have kept me in the dark? Yes; to be sure. How long have you known this — about Susan Meynell?”

“Well, my dear boy, not very long.”

“But how long? A month — two months? Yes; you have known Lenoble’s position ever since you knew him; and Charlotte told me three months ago of Diana’s engagement to Lenoble. Do you know that if Sheldon had succeeded, Charlotte’s blood would have been upon your head? If you had not concealed the truth, his villany would never have been attempted.”

“But, my dear Val,” exclaimed the Captain piteously, “I was not to know —”

“No; you were not to know that there could be such a wretch as Philip Sheldon upon this earth. We will say no more of that. I kept my secret, you kept yours. Mischief unspeakable well-nigh came of all this underhand work. But heaven has been merciful to us. We have passed through the valley of the shadow of death; and if anything could make my wife dearer to me than she was when first I won her promise to be mine, it would be the sorrow of the last few months. And now I will go and shake hands with Lenoble, my wife’s kinsman. He is a fine fellow, and well deserves his good fortune. Stay; one word. Did Diana know this? did she know that her lover is heir to the Haygarth estate?”

“She does not know it now. She has never heard the name of Haygarth. And, between you and me, Val, it cost me a world of trouble to persuade her to say yes to Lenoble’s offer, though he is a very decent match for her, even without reference to the Haygarth estate.”

“I am glad she knew nothing of this,” said Valentine; “I am very glad.”

After this he again shook hands with Captain Paget, at that gentleman’s request, and the Captain expressed himself much relieved by the conversation, and by his late protégé‘s very generous behaviour. He called to his daughter and the rest presently, and they came at his summons.

“Is your long talk finished, papa?” asked Diana.

“And is the secret told?” demanded Charlotte of her obedient husband and slave.

“Yes, dear, it is told,” he answered gravely.

“I hope it is a pleasant secret.”

“I do not think the knowledge of it will give you much pain, dearest. You have learnt to think yourself a — a kind of an heiress of late, have you not?”

“Papa — Mr. Sheldon — told me that I had a claim to some money; but I have not thought much about it, except that I should give you Grote and Macaulay in dark-brown calf, with bevelled boards and red edges, like that edition you saw at the auctioneer’s in Bond Street, and have talked about ever since; and a horse, perhaps; and a glass porch to our cottage.”

“Well, darling, the books in dark-brown calf, and the horse, and the glass porch, may all be ours in the future; but the money was only a dream — it has melted away, dear.”

“Is that all?” asked Charlotte. “Why, I dare say the day will come when you will be as rich as Sir Walter Scott.”

“In the meantime I have something to give you instead of the money.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes; a cousin. Will that do as well, my love?”

“A cousin? I shall like her very much if she is nice.”

“The cousin I mean is a gentleman.”

“But where is he to come from?” cried Charlotte, laughing. Has he dropped from the moon? The only relations I have the world are Uncle and Aunt Mercer. How can you pretend to find me a cousin?”

“Do you remember telling me of your grandmother’s only sister — Susan Meynell?”

“Yes,” said Charlotte, with a sudden blush; “I remember.”

“That Miss Meynell married a gentleman of Normandy, and left one only child, a son. His name is Gustave Lenoble, and he is standing by your side. He is heir-at-law to a very large fortune, which it was once supposed you could claim. Are you sorry, Lotta, to find a kinsman and lose a fortune? — and are you contented to begin the world with no hope except in your husband’s patience and courage?”

“And genius!” cried Charlotte, with enthusiasm.

The sweet, blinding glamour of love shone upon this young scribbler, and she believed that he was indeed worthy to take rank among the greatest of that grand brotherhood of which he was so humble a member. She looked up at him with the prettiest confidence; her clinging hand clasped his with love and trust immeasurable. He felt and knew that love like this was a treasure beside which the Reverend John Haygarth’s hoarded thousands must needs seem but sorry dross.

After this there was much explanation and congratulation. Gustave Lenoble was delighted to claim so fair a kinswoman.

“Thou art like my eldest, my cousin,” he said; “Diana saw the likeness at the Sacré Coeur when she beheld my daughter; and I too saw my eldest’s look in thine eyes when I first met thee. Remember, it was convened between us that Côtenoir should be a home for thee and for Hawkehurst before I knew what link bound thee to the house of Lenoble. Now thou and thy husband will be of our family.”

Diana was bewildered, grieved, indignant with the father who had deceived her by his studious suppression of the truth. She found herself placed in the position of rival to Charlotte, and the whole proceeding seemed to her mean and treacherous.

But it was no time for remonstrance or open expression of indignant feeling. Her father’s days were numbered. She knew this, and she held her peace. Nor did Mrs. Sheldon utter any word of complaint, though the disappointment she experienced upon hearing this revelation was very keen. The idea of the four or five thousand pounds which were to come to Charlotte had been a consolation to her in the midst of that confusion and desolation which had newly come upon her life. She left Knightsbridge that evening somewhat depressed in spirits, and half inclined to be angry with Charlotte and her husband for their gaiety of manner, and evident happiness in each other’s society.

“It seems hard to have to begin the world at my age,” she murmured hopelessly, “after being accustomed to have everything nice about me, as I had at the Lawn; though I own that the trouble and care of the servants was wearing me to the grave.”

“Dear mamma,” exclaimed Charlotte tenderly, “there is no fear of trouble or poverty for you or for us. Valentine has plenty of money, and is on the high road to securing a comfortable income. Authors do not starve in garrets now, you know, as they used to do, poor things, when Doctor Johnson ate his dinner in a cave, or something dreadful of that kind; and when Sir Richard Steele thought it quite a wonderful thing to get a pound of tea for his wife. And Valentine’s heart is in his profession, and he will work for us.”

“As long as I have a hand that can write, and a brain that can guide my pen,” interposed Mr. Hawkehurst, gaily. “I have given hostages to Fortune. I can face the hazard boldly I feel as confident and as happy as if we lived in the golden age, when there was neither care nor toil for innocent mankind, and all the brightest things of earth were the spontaneous gift of the gods.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/charlotte_s_inheritance/book10.4.html

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